What Does the Messiah Know?

A Prelude to Kabbalah’s Trinity Complex

In: Maimonides Review of Philosophy and Religion Volume 2, 2023
Author:
Jeremy Phillip Brown University of Notre Dame, Department of Theology

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Abstract

The present study sheds light on the tortured relationship between Iberian Kabbalah and medieval Christian doctrine by shifting the scholarly focus from the self-consciously para-Trinitarian speculation developed in late thirteenth-century Castile to the messianism of earlier kabbalistic writing composed in Catalonia. It documents a filiation of texts—leading from the threefold theosophical speculation incubated by Ezra ben Solomon of Gerona to Moses Naḥmanides’s messianic assertions in the context of the 1263 Disputation of Barcelona—concerned with the interpretation of a single biblical episode: God’s investiture of Bezalel, the chief artisan of the Tabernacle, with three intellectual attributes operative in the divine act of creation. On the foundation laid for him by Ezra ben Solomon and Azriel of Gerona, Naḥmanides identified Bezalel’s knowledge of sacred architecture with knowledge of Kabbalah. Moreover, he intimated that the redeemer of Israel would resemble Bezalel as one endowed with such knowledge. This prompts the question: Did the Catalonian authors anticipate that Kabbalah would prove instrumental for the practical task of building a new sanctuary?

In Memoriam

Michal (Kushnir) Oron (1939–2022)

Joseph Dan (1935–2022)

We will achieve closeness to God by being in His Temple with His priests and His prophets. Additionally, we will have purity and sanctity, we will be in the chosen Land, and His presence will dwell among us. […] Then we shall no longer linger over foreign faiths, [wondering] whether they are true, as those who lack knowledge among our nation wonder. Our appetitive soul bestirs itself likewise for those days and eagerly awaits them in order to demonstrate to her opponents, that is, her evil neighbors, the people of the strange religions, that “they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” [Hos 8:7.] It is natural for a person to [wish to] prevail over his adversaries to show that the truth lies with him.

NaḥmanideS, Book of Redemption (Sefer ha-Geʾullah)1

1 “Fear and Cringing”

More than other partisans of medieval Jewish theology, the kabbalists of the thirteenth century bore the burden of disambiguating their teachings from those of the illicit faith of Christianity.2 This burden saddled their efforts to disseminate a “secret of faith,”3 or alternately, a “secret of unity” among Israel,4 according to which the singular divinity comprises a multitude of individuating powers. The kabbalists disseminated their “hidden wisdom” at a time when the Dominican Order had intensified a campaign in territories to the north and south of the Pyrenees to convert Jews to the confession of a triune Godhead. Writing in 1292, Moses ben Shem-Tov de León of Guadalajara intimated the high stakes of confessing the doctrine of the sefirot by placing a theological anxiety on the lips of an apparently rhetorical questioner. The anxiety concerns the kabbalists’ discernment of a threefold divine unity within the very verses classically marshalled by Christians to prove a biblical basis for Trinitarian belief. These verses include the šemaʿ (Deut 6:4), the credal statement of Israelite monotheism in which God is invoked three times. They also include the qedušah (Isa 6:3), in which God is thrice called “holy.” Referring to these verses, the questioner demands to know:

Why all of this multiplication by three? […] Is this not the very thing that perplexes beliefs? […] Truth is not lacking from the things you have taught, though the heart is not settled and cannot be pacified. The person who understands [these things] fears and cringes, lest he transgress with his tongue, and therefore keeps his mouth shut.5

In contrast to the extroverted, kerygmatic ethos accompanying the illicit doctrine of the Trinity, a fear of misspeaking imposes a fence of silence around Israel’s “secret of unity.”6 Nonetheless, the questioner utters the crux of his concern: “Why would it be that the sefirot are ten and not three, in accord with the secret of unity which [rests upon] three? About all of these things, minds are perplexed and hearts unsettled.”7

The nineteenth-century scholar Adolf Jellinek—a forerunner in studying the threefold motifs in de León’s theology—suggested that the kabbalists had inadvertently stumbled into their para-Trinitarian assertions under the spell of illicit attraction: “Some [Jewish] mystics of the thirteenth century, unintentionally and while protesting against it, let themselves be tempted to establish a triad” (“so haben doch einige Mystiker des 13. Jahrhunderts, ohne daß sie es wollten und während sie dagegen protestiren, sich verleiten lassen, eine Trias aufzustellen”).8 However, the suggestion of an unintentional and irresistible mimesis induced by the taboo doctrine does not sit well with the evidence. At the very least, the episode recounted by de León—whether factual, imagined, or somewhere in between—indicates that one of most consequential kabbalists of the late thirteenth century was painfully conscious of a double bind tethering his speculation to Trinitarian belief. On the one hand, Kabbalah was committed to zealously policing the boundaries of the faith. On the other, it clearly avowed the premise that the tenfold divinity is founded upon a threefold unity. This theological positioning, and the anxieties it provoked, illustrates a Trinity complex that bound Israel’s “hidden wisdom” from a formative moment of its development.9 Subsequent Christian apologists from Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (fifteenth century) on who claimed that Kabbalah proved Christological truths effectively justified the fear and cringing typified by de León’s questioner. Nonetheless, the anti-Christian polemic incubated from early in its formation did not suffice to liberate Kabbalah from its image as a gateway to apostasy,10 an image exaggerated in significant part by a neo-Maimonidean tendency in modern historiography.11 This is not only because censors often intercepted such polemic, but also because the kabbalists’ dogged emphasis on the primacy of three divine attributes did little to allay the anxiety.12

In the past, some historians attributed one especially high-profile instance of apostasy/conversion to the knowledge of Kabbalah.13 It is now clear, however, that such knowledge did not play a decisive role in the much-studied apostasy/conversion of Abner of Burgos/Alfonso de Valladolid (ca. 1320).14 Nonetheless, the author’s polemical writings do resort to a demonstration of the Trinity from one of the midrashic traditions employed by the early kabbalists to authorise the primacy of three intellectual attributes with which God created the world:15 Midrash to Psalms (ad 50:1).16 Indeed, earlier polemical sources had already flagged this midrash as a stock text for Christian apologists.17 On its basis, Abner/Alfonso alleged the sages of the Talmud espoused Trinitarian belief.

I say that what the Christians believe—in describing the Trinity of the one God—is exactly what the Talmudic sages affirm and prove from the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. […] This is what is written in the Midrash on Psalms on the verse which says “God, the Lord God spoke and summoned the world” [Ps 50:1] […].

Why did it mention the Name three times? To teach you that the Holy One, blessed be He, created the world with these three names which stand for the three attributes with which He created the world. And these are they: wisdom [ha-ḥokhmah], understanding [ha-tevunah], and knowledge [ha-daʿat]. “Wisdom,” from whence? Because it is said, “The Lord founded the earth by wisdom, etc.” [Prov 3:19] “Understanding?” Because it is said, “He established the heavens by understanding.” [Prov 3:19] “Knowledge?” Because it is said, “By His knowledge the depths burst apart.” [Prov 3:20] Likewise, “For I the Lord your God, God. …” [Exod 20:5] Behold, three names corresponding to three attributes with which the world was created. Likewise, the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben said, “God, the Lord God! God, the Lord God! He knows.” [Josh 22:22] Why did they mention the threefold name two times? “God, the Lord God!” with which the world was created and “God, the Lord God!” with which the Torah was given.18

One must conclude from this passage that the world could not have been created unless the Creator had these three attributes which are indicated by His three names, “God [El], God [Elohim], the Lord (YHWH),” because they are three from the one divine substance. They are indicated by those three other names [wisdom (ḥokhmah), understanding (tevunah), and knowledge (daʿat)] because of their essential characteristics. […] Indeed, He Himself is His wisdom, and He Himself is His understanding, and He is His knowledge.19

The three divine attributes that Abner/Alfonso elicited from the midrash— wisdom, understanding, and knowledge—lay at the crux of de León’s response to his questioner. According to de León, “there are commentators” who affirm that wisdom (ḥokhmah), understanding (tevunah), and knowledge (daʿat) are three attributes that comprise the ten sefirot in their totality, and thus constitute Israel’s “secret of unity.”20 Though it was not Kabbalah, after all, that brought Abner/Alfonso to baptism, the latter’s Trinitarian use of midrash shows that the anxiety exemplified by de León’s questioner was only too appropriate.

With such high stakes, why did kabbalists deem it necessary to insist upon such teachings—teachings which, they frankly acknowledged, courted sin? Why, rather than seeking to extricate the discourse from such entanglements, did the producers of this knowledge double down and cinch up the bind? The present study responds to these questions on the basis of earlier speculation on the three intellectual attributes of divinity, viz. earlier kabbalistic speculation from Catalonia that formed the background for de León’s para-Trinitarian teaching. It will be argued that the Catalonian kabbalists were not at liberty to desist from such threefold speculation because (a) it founded claims to the rabbinic authority of their traditions; (b) it supported constitutional elements of their knowledge; and, most ironically, (c) it was fundamental to their messianic agenda.

The particular strain of speculation isolated in this study focuses on a midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer concerning the three intellectual attributes with which God created the world and endowed key protagonists of Israel’s redemption. This midrash (from a late compilation post-dating the advent of Islam) is closely related to—and sometimes cited together with—the midrash on Psalm 50:1 (the midrash appropriated above by Abner/Alfonso). What follows will review the earliest kabbalistic interpretations of the midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer, which later proved instrumental in the binding of Kabbalah’s Trinity complex. While speculation based on that midrash prompted the Trinitarian anxiety evident in the late thirteenth-century sources already discussed, its earlier interpretations had already coaxed the discourse into a bind of a different nature—a bind specifically related to the messianic character of kabbalistic knowledge. It appears that the earlier interpretations made no effort to distance themselves from the redemptive narrative that organizes the midrash. This may be gathered from the early kabbalists’ interest in the biblical account of God’s investiture of Bezalel, the chief artisan of the Tabernacle, with the intellectual attributes operative in the divine act of creation: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge (ḥokhmah, tevunah, daʿat). On the foundation laid for him by Ezra ben Solomon and Azriel of Gerona, Naḥmanides identified Bezalel’s knowledge of sacred architecture with knowledge of Kabbalah. Moreover, he intimated that the messianic redeemer of Israel would resemble Bezalel as one endowed with such knowledge. This begs the question: Did Naḥmanides view Kabbalah as a prerequisite for the practical task of building a new sanctuary?

2 Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge

Our analysis begins with the midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer that facilitated the early kabbalists’ understanding of Kabbalah as the very knowledge that would facilitate Israel’s redemption. In this midrash, the motif of messianic expectation is linked with pre-kabbalistic ideation concerning the ten creative utterances (maʾamarot, or logoi) with which God created the world.21 The midrash affirms that three intellectual attributes, in fact, comprised the ten creative utterances and that God allocated the three attributes of the divine mind to the minds of Israel’s most adept.

Some say that by ten creative utterances [maʾamarot] was the world created;22 and in three [attributes] are these [ten] comprised;23 as it is said, “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth; with understanding he established the heavens, by his knowledge the depths were broken up” (Prov 3:19–20). By these three [attributes] was the Tabernacle made, as it is said, “And I have filled him [Bezalel] with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, and with knowledge” (Exod 31:3) [b. Ber. 55a]. Likewise with these three [attributes] was the Temple made, as it is said [of Hiram the chief artisan of Solomon’s Temple], “He was the son of a widow woman of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in brass; and he was filled with wisdom and understanding and knowledge” (1 Kgs 7:14). By these three attributes it will be rebuilt in the future, as it is said, “Through wisdom is a house built; and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge are the chambers filled” (Prov 24:3–4). With these three attributes will the Blessed Holy One give three good gifts to Israel in the future, as it is said, “For the Lord will give wisdom, out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding” (Prov 2:6). It is not said, “The Lord has given wisdom” [i.e., it does not speak in the past tense, but refers to future gifts]. These three [attributes] will be given to King Messiah, as it is said, “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isa 11:2).24

The midrash collects a host of scriptural references into a single motif—the triumvirate of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. It weaves the three attributes into a single account of Israel’s sacred history, from the creation of the world to the fashioning of the Tabernacle, from the construction of the Jerusalem Temple to its future restoration, and, eventually, to the gifts of messianic knowledge that God will confer on Israel in the fullness of time.25 The attributes are apportioned first to the artisans of Israel’s sanctuaries, Bezalel and Hiram of Tyre, then to Israel’s Messiah, and thereby to all Israel. One of the noteworthy features of this text is its alignment of the Messiah’s vocation with that of the divinely inspired artisans. The Messiah’s threefold knowledge is thus equated with that of Bezalel and Hiram of Tyre.

Although an early amoraic tradition includes the three intellectual attributes in a list of ten creative attributes,26 the early kabbalists clearly favoured the threefold framework of the midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer as a springboard for their speculation. Ezra ben Solomon of Gerona’s agenda of wresting interpretive control of the cosmological traditions of Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer from the philosophers may have contributed to this preference.27 Another contributing factor may have been the significance of the three attributes in the proto- kabbalistic speculation contained in the Sefer Yeṣirah commentary composed by Judah ben Barzilai of Barcelona. The latter work helps to locate a curriculum for the study of midrashic lore concerning the traditionally esoteric domains of maʿaśeh berešit (the account of creation) and maʿaśeh merkavah (the account of Ezekiel’s chariot) in medieval Catalonia in the century preceding the appearance of the first kabbalistic writing in Iberia. Just as in the midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer, it is relevant to observe that Judah identified the three creative-intellectual attributes with both Bezalel’s vocation of sanctuary-building and the Messiah’s knowledge.28

3 Ezra ben Solomon

The writings of Ezra ben Solomon contributed novel speculation concerning the three creative-intellectual attributes,29 and, in particular, their redemptive character. Ezra, the earliest known Spanish kabbalist, prefaced his Commentary on the Song of Songs (Peruš Šir ha-Širim) with an esoteric explanation of the encomium to wisdom in Job 28 in which the three attributes figure prominently. The authority that this explanation held for subsequent kabbalists may be gleaned from the fact that within a century of its composition, it appeared, whether cited or paraphrased, in the work of leading expositors of Kabbalah in Catalonia, Castile, Northern Italy, and as far east as Palestine.30 None less than Naḥmanides deemed Ezra’s teaching “glorified and praised,” a tradition to be accepted.31

According to Ezra’s explanation, Job 28 alludes to a theogonic process of divine self-construction, a process that parallels both the extra-divine act of creation and the work of Bezalel the artisan.32

“He saw it and gauged it” (Job 28:27)—gazing upon the pure thought [ba-maḥšavah ha-ṭehorah], just as a person weighing a course of action first considers it within his heart and only afterward begins to carry it out and occupy himself with it. […] In accord with the images within, He traced the totality which emanated from it. “And gauged it”—the three primordial books, sefer, sefar, and sippur, which are wisdom [ḥokhmah], understanding [tevunah], and knowledge [daʿat]. “He measured it”—the intent of the verse is that the existences were not arrayed in accord with the order of the edifice [loʾ hayu ʿomdot ʿal seder tekhunot ha-binyan]. Rather, God, be He blessed, brought the existences [hawayot] into being, arrayed them in order, transformed them into an edifice [binyan], combining, measuring, and transposing the twenty-two letters, binding each and every one to its fellow, so that they paralleled one another, [like a] woman to her sister.33 “And He also probed it”—He affixed boundary to the attributes [middot], rendered them accessible to probing, although they in principle possessed no boundary from their beginning.34

The three attributes play an axial role in the process of divine becoming that is bound up with the creation of the world. The process is set in motion when God acts like a person examining their heart; that is, when He contemplates “the pure thought.” This act generates images and forms of the total divine projection. At this point, the divinity is arrayed in three attributes—wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. The text, in turn, identifies the three attributes with the three primordial books mentioned in Sefer Yeṣirah.35 The three attributes already comprise a totality. But at this moment in the intra-divine process of upbuilding, the totality has yet to achieve stability; thus, “the existences were not arrayed in accord with the order of the edifice [binyan].”36 Wisdom (ḥokhmah) and understanding (tevunah) correspond to the second and third sefirot respectively, whereas knowledge (daʿat) constitutes the divine edifice (binyan) comprised of the seven lower sefirot.37 Ultimately, the edifice becomes stable when God gives measurement and boundary to His knowledge. This results in the firm establishment of the edifice comprised of the lower seven sefirot.38 God thus performs the artisanal work of stabilising His knowledge by arranging and consolidating the raw material of this edifice: the twenty-two Hebrew letters of the primordial Torah.39 With this act, the theogonic process is actualised.

Ezra’s speculation on the three intellectual attributes is not only based on the messianic theme of the midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer. It is also indebted to a talmudic account where God’s apportionment of attributes to Bezalel is identified with the latter’s knowledge of letter combinations.40 In fact, the talmudic reference to the artisan’s proficiency in this art is one of the earliest allusions to letter combination in the ancient rabbinic corpus.41 The rabbis had already suggested that Bezalel’s work of building the Tabernacle did not merely recapitulate God’s act of creating the world in a general sense, but rather in the specific sense that the work entailed plying the creative medium of language and thus paralleled God’s creation of the world through speech.42 It will be seen that Azriel of Gerona and Naḥmanides likewise attuned their speculation to this ancient characterisation of Bezalel.

The attributes apportioned to the artisan in Exodus 31:3 appear in another passage from Ezra’s commentary on the Song of Songs, which explains how liturgical worship is ordered to the unity of the three divine attributes. Thus, three significant verses contained within the great qedušah of the Musaf Service for Sabbath and Festivals—the qedušah (Isa 6:3), the berakhah (Ezek 3:12), and the šemaʿ (Deut 6:4)—are three that “enter under the rubric of the unity of wisdom, and understanding, and knowledge, which is the edifice (binyan) containing the seven [lower] sefirot.”43 This account of the threefold unity supports the interpretation offered above, according to which the first two attributes refer to the second and third sefirot and the third encompasses the lower seven. The passage goes on to clarify its theosophical reading of the midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer:

for the ten sefirot are included within the three: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge; the three recitations of the qedušah exist to unify the three of them. Within their totality, all things are included. So we have found in Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer: “The world was created with ten utterances [maʾamarot] but these were included in three.”44

In what appears to be a later composition45 —a commentary on the rabbinic legends (Peruš ha-Aggadot)—Ezra collated the midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer together with the aforecited midrash from Midrash to Psalms (ad 50:1; viz. the above-cited text exploited by Abner/Alfonso as well as earlier apologists). The composition adduces the two traditions in immediate succession without any exegesis. The lack of interpretation suggests that Ezra judged that the two midrashim did not require any explanation to substantiate the threefold speculation he extracted from them in his earlier Song commentary.46 Indeed, when they are read from the author’s theosophical vantage point, the midrashim speak as if for themselves. As seen above, the first midrash culls verses from scripture to support the idea that God created the world with the use of three names—three names corresponding to the three attributes of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. As likewise seen above, the second midrash, which Ezra cited in full, weaves these attributes into a narrative that is chiefly concerned with their redemptive functions. Though nothing is added to the two midrashim, it is possible to connect the messianic character of the three attributes with an additional midrashic motif adduced by Ezra in his Song commentary; namely, the identification of the “spirit of God” hovering upon the waters on the first day (Gen 1:2) with the Messiah, who is endowed with wisdom (ḥokhmah) and understanding (tevunah). Thus, the excursus on Psalm 104 in Ezra’s Song commentary glosses the “spirit of God” (Gen 1:2) as an allusion to “the Messiah’s spirit, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,” which “hovered over the waters, covering all.”47 Understood in terms of the theosophical speculation promoted by Ezra, this identification may allude to the issue of the Messiah’s pre-existent spirit from the conjunction of the second and third sefirot. Ezra’s exegesis is apparently based on Isaiah 11:2, the verse adduced in the midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer to establish the scriptural link between Bezalel and Israel’s builder-Messiah: “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isa 11:2). This messianic “spirit of God”/“spirit of the Lord” recollects, at least nominally, the “spirit of God” with which God filled Bezalel when He filled the artisan with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge “in every kind of craft” (Exod 31:3). While Ezra went no further than glossing the messianic “spirit of God” as “the spirit of wisdom and understanding” in a tacit nod to the midrash,48 Naḥmanides, as I will show, seized upon this Bezalel-Messiah connection.49

Azriel’s reworking of Ezra’s commentary on the rabbinic legends also yields speculation related to Bezalel’s knowledge. In addition to citing the midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer,50 the later version of the commentary also engages the talmudic dictum concerning Bezalel’s linguistic craft to characterise the artisan in terms that align with Ezra’s theogonic reading of Job 28:27.

Rav Yehuda said that Rav said:51 Bezalel knew how to combine the letters [leṣaref otiyyot]) with which heaven and earth were created. It is written [of Bezalel]: “And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, etc.” (Exod 31:3). And it is written, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens, by his knowledge the depths were broken up” (Prov 3:19–20). And the letters are the foundation of everything,52 and they are a standard [šiʿur] for every each thing possessing measure [middah], for all descenders of the limit [yordey ha-gevul; i.e., the seven lower sefirot] are mutable and reversible with them [the letters], and with their combinations. And when combining limit with limit then a measure [middah] is made. […] And the work of heaven and earth and sea and all therein, everything has limitation, everything is limited by the limit of the letters, the soul of all that is formed and all that will be formed. […] There is no speech in any language apart from what is comprised within this verse that consists of the four divine names: spirit, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge (Exod 31:3). […] For Mordecai Bilshan [(Ezra 2:2; Neh 7:7) glossed baʿal lašon (master of language), was so-called] for his knowledge of the seventy languages.53 He did not venture hither and yon to learn the language of each people. Rather he learned the key with which to combine letters: all language[s] are comprised within the Torah. […] This statement indicates that all languages are alluded to in the Torah. If it were it not so, it would not have been possible to explain the Holy Language [of Torah] by means of a foreign language.54

This difficult text recalls the self-constructive process of a divinity imposing boundaries on its own being—stabilising the seven lower sefirot by variously manoeuvring the twenty-two letters of the primordial alphabet. Its author understood Bezalel’s practical knowledge of letter combination as a function of his God-given attributes. Here, rather than three attributes,55 the text adds “the spirit of God” to the triumvirate to yield four attributes. It appears that the text understands these four attributes in at least three interrelated ways: (a) as the universal matrix of all language, (b) as integral to the divine order, and (c) as the substrate of creation. The passage even invokes the legend that Mordecai, hero of the book of Esther, was a universal polyglot; it does so to explain Mordecai’s supposed aptitude for language acquisition—a function of the linguistic matrix encoded within the primordial letters of the Torah. It may be noted, parenthetically, that this matrical concept of the language is closely paralleled in the writings of Jacob ben Sheshet of Gerona56 and in Abraham Abulafia’s conception of Hebrew as the “mother of all languages.”57 For the author of the passage cited above, matrical knowledge of the primordial language (Hebrew) is commensurate with a technical, know-how understanding of the structures and dynamics of divinity. Accordingly, investiture with the intellectual attributes—qua divine essences—empowers humans to recapitulate a theogonic process in which reality achieves stability and structure through language. In this sense, Bezalel’s construction of the Tabernacle does not only reproduce the divine work of world-creation. It likewise re-enacts God’s project of self-fashioning. In other words, the use of letter combination to construct the sanctuary mirrors the upbuilding of the divine edifice by means of God’s own primordial speech. However, the correspondence between the divine edifice and Israel’s sanctuaries is not merely procedural, that is, related to the processes of their construction. Their correspondence is also structural, reflecting an isomorphism in design.

The idea that the Tabernacle is patterned after the structure of the divinity is indeed a commonplace in the diverse literature of medieval Kabbalah.58 This idea coheres well with the premise that Bezalel’s work reiterated intra-divine processes at the human level. It appears that Ezra ben Solomon is the first known kabbalistic author to portray the Tabernacle as an earthly representation of a supernal archetype. He seems to have coined the kabbalistic usage of the Hebrew term dugmah (pattern or archetype; etymologically related to the Greek δείγμα) in connection with his understanding of the archetypal design of Israel’s sanctuaries. In one instance, his Song commentary states: “The forms of the Tabernacle are the archetype of the Glory of the Holy One, blessed be He [dugmat ha-kevodo šel ha-qadoš barukh huʾ], and of this world [we-dugmat ha-ʿolam ha-zeh].”59

The delineation of archetypal correspondences between (a) the appurtenances of the Tabernacle and (b) the divine, angelic, and mundane worlds occupies a significant place in Ezra’s Song commentary. This passage is typical:

Just as the tribal banners were made in the pattern [dugmat] of the world-to-come and this world […] so too was the Tabernacle made in the manner of the supernal world [ʿal derekh ha-ʿolam ha-ʿelyon]—the edifice [containing] the Holy of Holies where the shekhinah rests between the two cherubim. Corresponding to the intermediate angelic world—in which those angels whose authority is over the earth serve—is the tent of meeting—in which are situated the shewbread table, the candelabrum and the golden altar, these being inner and spiritual vessels. The golden altar was not designated for wholly burnt offerings or sacrifices, but rather for the incense, which was a matter subtle and spiritual. Facing it was the candelabrum and the light from its six branches issuing as hammered work from its central branch, radiating light at the front of the lamp stand. Corresponding to the terrestrial world is the sacrificial altar, situated in the Tabernacle court, upon which all of the sacrifices might be offered.60

This passage demonstrates Ezra’s archetypal concept of Israel’s sanctuary. The concept is further corroborated by Ezra’s appropriation of a midrashic correlation between (a) the six days of creation and the Sabbath and (b) the six phases of work on the Tabernacle and its inauguration.61 This correlation supports Ezra’s claim that the world “is comprised within the construction of the Tabernacle.”62 The matter takes on theosophical significance when read in light of Ezra’s equation of the seven primordial days with the seven lower sefirot.63 This equation, in turn, becomes all the more poignant when it is recalled that the seven lower sefirot comprise the edifice (binyan) of knowledge (daʿat) which God, like Bezalel, stabilised through the work of letter combination. Without, however, marking these additional layers of signification for his reader in the present context, Ezra limited himself to a terse comment signaling the theosophical import of the midrash: “All of the above alludes (romez) to the fact that this world draws life from, is connected with, and affixed to the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He.”64

When Ezra’s theosophical understanding of Israel’s sanctuaries is calibrated to the author’s eschatology65 and read together with the indications of Bezalel’s linguistic-artisanal craft, one is compelled to ask: Did Ezra anticipate that the builder of a future Temple would employ knowledge of Kabbalah? In the absence of any single unequivocal statement on the matter, answering this question in the affirmative depends on synthesising disparate elements of Ezra’s theology. It is at least clear from his express testimony that Ezra awaited the arrival of a messianic builder. He ascribed the task of rebuilding the Temple to the (Ephraimite) Messiah son of Joseph,66 whereas the Davidic Messiah would succeed the slain Messiah son of Joseph and gather the exiles back to the Holy City rebuilt by his predecessor.67 At minimum, the material culled from the early corpus of Catalonian texts helps to anticipate the reading I will elicit from Naḥmanides’s writings that such a redemptive builder would require the technical knowledge modeled by Bezalel. In a manner evidently indebted to Ezra’s theosophical understanding of the Tabernacle, Naḥmanides underscored the redemptive, if not messianic character of Bezalel’s knowledge.

4 Moses Naḥmanides

4.1 The Secret of the Tabernacle

Although a previous generation of scholars clung to the false supposition that Ezra’s esoteric speculation should be distinguished categorically from that of Moses Naḥmanides,68 it is perfectly apt to find support from the latter’s writings for a similar reception of the midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer to that gleaned from Ezra’s corpus. Naḥmanides is the pre-eminent medieval rabbinic theologian on the topic of the Tabernacle. Even so, scholars have yet to interpret this facet of the figure’s contribution against the background of Ezra’s writings. What follows locates Naḥmanides’s theology of the Tabernacle within a messianic outlook in which artisanal knowledge of Kabbalah plays a constructive-redemptive role.

It is important to recall that Naḥmanides placed his imprimatur on Ezra’s interpretation of Job 28, in which God’s primordial upbuilding from the raw material of language mirrors Bezalel’s craft. Not only did he praise this text, he cited it in extenso in his commentary to Job (ad loc). As in Ezra’s writings, a host of aggadic motifs bolsters Naḥmanides’s thinking about the Tabernacle, including (a) its construction as a repetition of the work of creation and (b) the pre-kabbalistic characterisations of its builder. These motifs will be discussed in due course. Foremost in Naḥmanides’s theology, however, is what he dubbed “the secret of the Tabernacle” (sod ha-miškan).69 Accordingly, the Tabernacle is a sanctuary whose service renders the indwelling of God at Mount Sinai into an enduring presence for Israel throughout their sojourn in the wilderness. It is indeed evident from the scriptural narrative that God spoke to Moses through the Tabernacle in a manner comparable to the theophany at Sinai:

The secret of the Tabernacle [sod ha-miškan] is that the Glory which abode upon Mount Sinai [overtly] should abide upon it in a concealed manner. […] Thus Israel always had with them in the Tabernacle the Glory which appeared to them on Mount Sinai. And when Moses went into the Tabernacle, he would hear the divine utterance being spoken to him in the same way as on Mount Sinai. […] Now one who looks carefully at the verses mentioned at the giving of the Torah, and understands what we have written about them, will perceive the secret of the Tabernacle and the Temple [built later by King Solomon].70

The narratological structure of Naḥmanides’s thinking situates the construction of the Tabernacle between the revelation at Sinai and the future construction of Solomon’s Temple. In prefiguring the construction of that latter sanctuary, the construction of the Tabernacle likewise foreshadows the building of a messianic sanctuary within Naḥmanides’s immediate horizon of expectation.71

In his synopsis of the book of Exodus, the sage emphasised not only the theophanic aspect of the Tabernacle, but also its redemptive function. The following exegesis is based on the premise that the inauguration of the Tabernacle restored Israel to the status of the Patriarchs, after their protracted exile in Egypt:

When they [Israel] came to Mount Sinai and made the Tabernacle, and the Holy One, blessed be He, caused His presence to dwell again amongst them, they returned to the status of their fathers when the counsel of God (sod eloah) was upon their tents,72 and they constituted the [divine] chariot.73 Then they were considered redeemed. It was for this reason that this second book of the Torah concludes with the consummation of the building of the Tabernacle, and the Glory of the Lord filling it always.74

This account of the Tabernacle’s redemptive function likely anticipates the future deliverance when a messianic ruler would restore a sanctuary to Israel75 and the people would, like the ancient Patriarchs and the Tabernacle itself, serve as the very resting place for divinity in the world.76 If understood according to the theosophical pattern I elicited from Ezra’s writings above, it appears that this redemption came about through the completion of the Tabernacle, when the “counsel of God” (sod eloah)—corresponding to the upper sefirot of wisdom (ḥokhmah) and understanding (binah)—came to rest upon the tents of Israel. That Naḥmanides identified Israel’s tents with the edifice of the seven lower sefirot is suggested by his equation of the people’s dwellings with the divine chariot constituted by the Patriarchs.77 The complete picture, then, is one in which the indwelling of divinity gives rise to both theophany and redemption. There is sufficient indication that Naḥmanides clung to the prospect that the future Temple would perform a redemptive-theophanic function analogous to that of the Tabernacle, albeit in a manner theretofore unprecedented.78

4.2 Understanding, Wisdom, and Knowledge as Redemptive Attributes

What sort of knowledge might one require to build sanctuaries capable of realising these ultimate functions? The inquiry will now turn to Naḥmanides’s account of Bezalel’s knowledge. In one instance, the Torah commentary seeks to explain why, in the scriptural narrative, God commanded Moses to discern the artisan’s divine calling (“See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri”; Exod 31:2).

The reason for this is because Israel in Egypt had been crushed under the work “in mortar and in brick” (Exod 1:14), and had acquired no knowledge of how to work with silver and gold, and the cutting of precious stones, and had never seen them at all. It was thus a wonder that there was to be found amongst them such a great wise-hearted man who knew how to work with silver and gold, and in cutting of stones [for setting] and in carving of wood, a craftsman, an embroiderer, and a weaver. For even amongst those who study before the experts, you cannot find one who is proficient in all these crafts [ha-ommanuyot kullam]. And even those who know them and are used to doing them, if their hands are continually engaged in [work with] lime and mud, lose the ability to do with them such artistic and delicate work [ommanut daqqah we-yafah]. Moreover, he [Bezalel] was a great sage “in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge” (Exod 31:3), understanding the secret of the Tabernacle and all its vessels, why they were commanded and to what they would allude [ḥakham gadol be-ḥokhmah bi-tevunah u-we-daʿat lehavin sod ha-miškan we-khol kelaw lammah ṣuwu we-el mah yirmozu]. Therefore, God said to Moses that when he sees this wonder (ha-peleʾ ha-zeh) he should know that “I filled him with the spirit of God” (Exod 31:3) to know all these things in order that he would make the Tabernacle. For it was His will to make the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and He created him for His Glory, for it is “He that called the generations from the beginning,” [Isa 41:4] it being similar in meaning to the verse, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.” [Jer 1:5] […] Our Rabbis have on this topic a Midrash:79 “God showed Moses the book of the first man and told him: ‘Each person I have given a role from that moment on, and Bezalel too I have given a role already then, as it is said, “See, I have called by name Bezalel” (Exod 31:2).’” This is similar to what I have explained. The Rabbis have also said, “Bezalel knew how to combine the letters with which heaven and earth were created.” [b. Ber. 55a] The purport of this saying is that the Tabernacle would allude to these matters, and he [Bezalel] is the knower and expert of its secret [ki ha-miškan yirmoz be-ellu we-huʾ ha-yodeaʿ u-mevin sodo].80

This passage characterises Bezalel as a redemptive figure whose task is to refine Israel’s knowledge—knowledge that had, per Naḥmanides’s above-cited synopsis of the book of Exodus, attenuated during their Egyptian exile. To the question of why God commanded Moses to take note of Bezalel’s calling, this exegesis responds that he was alerting Moses to the redemptive character of the artisan’s foreordained role. This served to remind Moses of the artisan’s destiny to exalt the Glory. The exegesis characterises Bezalel’s knowledge, following the biblical narrative, as divinely imparted. Moreover, the text explicitly connects the “wisdom, understanding, and knowledge” imparted to Bezalel with the artisan’s power “to understand the secret of the Tabernacle and all its vessels, why they were commanded and to what they would allude.” This suggests that the “wisdom, understanding, and knowledge” imparted to Bezalel comprised a pristine knowledge of the divinity, which is to say, a comprehensive knowledge of the sefirot; in short, knowledge of Kabbalah. This supposition is reinforced by the mention of the artisan’s knowledge of letter combination and the account of creation.81 This would suggest that Kabbalah is the redemptive knowledge par excellence insofar as it facilitates the building of sanctuaries that, in recapitulating supernal patterns, furnish an abode for the Glory,82 thus democratising knowledge of God among Israel.

In another instance, the Torah commentary returns to characterising Bezalel in terms of the intellectual attributes bestowed on him. According to the text, the dispensation of divine knowledge prepared him to perform the singular task of fashioning the Ark of Testimony,83 the most sanctified facet of the Tabernacle’s construction. God appointed Bezalel alone to this task, to work independently of the other gifted artisans:

In the case of the ark, however, Scripture mentions specifically “and Bezalel made the ark” (Exod 37:1) in order to say that the greatest craftsperson among them made the ark alone. The reason for this is because he was filled “with the spirit of God, in wisdom, understanding, and knowledge” (Exod 31:3) so that he could contemplate it and make it with intention (še-yitbonen bo we-yaʿaśeno be-khawwanah). For in the actual making of the ark there was no great artistry entailed, there being amongst the other work things which required greater skill than that of the ark.84

In this context, Bezalel’s divinely bestowed attributes are equated with a special gift for contemplation and intentional consciousness required to complete the ark within the Tabernacle’s inner sanctum. This supports the premise that he possessed an archetypal knowledge of divinity—that is, kabbalistic knowledge—and, likewise, that such knowledge guided the artisan in calibrating Israel’s sacred architecture to a divine archetype. As the exegesis suggests, crafting the ark did not require brute virtuosity, but rather a unique aptitude for subordinating artisanship to contemplation (hitbonenut) and intention (kawwanah).

To further elucidate Naḥmanides’s kabbalistic epistemology and its relationship to the physical sanctuaries required for Israel’s redemption, it is possible to adduce two critical passages from Šaʿar ha-Gemul (“Gate of Reward,” the final, eschatological chapter of Torat ha-Adam). In the first passage, the Catalonian sage links the design of Israel’s sanctuaries with the apparently fantastical plants and rivers that the first humans found in the terrestrial Garden of Eden to make an argument about the mechanics of “understanding” supernal matters. Accordingly, the biblical descriptions of Eden’s exotic trappings are not remotely fantastical. For Naḥmanides, their reality may be inferred from their capacity to facilitate human understanding of higher realities:

[They are] all true matters and firm subjects, alluding to a wonderful secret [sod muflaʾ]: They are like drawings of a thing [that help] to understand a profound secret [lehavin sod ʿamoq]. A parable, as we were taught: “Rabban Gamliel had pictures of the phases of the moon on a tablet on the wall of his upper chamber. He showed these to the uneducated [who come to attest to the appearance of the new moon, saying to them], ‘Did you see this [or that] phase?’” [b. Roš. Haš. 24a] In a like manner [i.e., in the manner of an image alluding to higher realities], the work in the Tabernacle [was carried out] in three places: the outer Court, the Tent, and [the area] enclosed by the Curtain, [viz. the Holy of Holies. And later] in the Temple [in Jerusalem, the work was carried out in these three places]: the outer Court, the Sanctuary, and the innermost Chamber. Similarly, every aspect of the vessels, as well as the forms of the cherubim, were all [crafted] to facilitate understanding of the secret account of the upper, middle, and lower worlds [lehavin sodot maʿaśeh ʿolam ha-ʿelyon we-ha-emṣaʿi we-ha-šafel], and allusions to the entire chariot [we-rimzey kol ha-merkavah],85 as well as the very creatures created in [the divine] likeness [angels],86 as the Rabbis said in Sefer Yeṣirah: “A sign and trustworthy witnesses for this matter is the world, the year, and the soul.”87

The first human, the handiwork of the Blessed Holy One, was distinguished among humans in understanding and knowledge [bi-tevunah uwe-daʿat], and God, blessed be He, set him in the best of places for the enjoyment and benefit of the body. He inscribed in that honored place the entire function of the supernal world, which is the world of souls in a physical form [kol maʿaśeh ha-ʿolam ha-ʿelyon huʾ ʿolam ha-nešamot be-ṣiyyur gašmi],88 [so that humans might] understand therefrom the foundations of all creatures—physical, spiritual, and angelic [lehavin mi-šam yesodey kol nivraʾ gufi we-nafshi u-malʾakhi]—and all of which possesses the creaturely faculty to attain from the blessed Creator [we-khol mah še-yeš be-haśagat ha-nivraʾ le-haśig min ha-boreʾ yitbarakh].

That place [the terrestrial Garden of Eden] is also the most glorified of all locations in the lower world because of the center of the middle of the middle and upper worlds that is suspended over it [that is, both the angelic and divine worlds are aligned above it]. Therefore, more “visions of God” [mareʾot ha-elohim; Ezek 1:1] are seen in it than in any of the other places upon the earth. This is similar to our belief that the Land of Israel and Jerusalem are glorified places, singularly distinguished by their essential nature of [facilitating] prophecy, and all the more so [does this apply] to the Temple, “the throne of the Lord.”89 […]

Thus in the [terrestrial] Garden of Eden, which is the chosen place for understanding all the supernal secrets within the forms of things [la-mevin be-ṣiyyurey ha-devarim kol sodot ha-ʿelyonim],90 the souls of the dwellers [therein] become elevated by that study and they behold “visions of God” [mareʾot Elohim] in the company of the higher beings of that place. They attain whatever [degree of] knowledge and understanding a created being can achieve [u-maśigim kol mah še-yakhol la-daʿat u-lehavin].91

This dense passage establishes an analogy between (a) the quality of understanding facilitated by the terrestrial Garden of Eden and (b) the quality of understanding facilitated by the Tabernacle, the Land of Israel generally, Jerusalem specifically, and the Temple situated at its navel. Each of these sites facilitates a comprehensive mode of understanding that encompasses three tiers of being: the lower world, the angelic world, and the divine world (wherein “the entire function of the supernal world” is inscribed).92 On the one hand, the reader may presume that this mode of understanding proceeds from the subjective operation of abstracting from the archetypal patterns discernible in Paradise, in Israel’s sanctuaries, and so forth, to apprehend transcendent realities. However, both the claim that angels and “visions of God” abide in the terrestrial Paradise and the premise that the Glory resides in Israel’s sanctuaries indicate that the presence of archetypal correspondences at lower levels of existence facilitates the indwelling of higher realities below.93 In this sense, the process of understanding is not generated solely by the intellectual exertion of a subjective knower who might gain access to upper realities through mental ascent from below. Rather, this mode of understanding—which is both theophanic and prophetic in nature—derives from “the creaturely faculty to attain from the blessed Creator.”94 Moreover, the fact that the supernal pattern is discernable below in the first instance is a function of the primordial wisdom imprinted upon creation.

Aside from the rhetoric of attainment, the terminology iterated several times in this passage is that of discerning secrets and allusions. Adam, rather than Bezalel, is the exemplar of divine handiwork who is distinguished in the attributes of understanding (tevunah) and knowledge (daʿat), although it is certain that Naḥmanides envisioned Bezalel’s knowledge along similar lines. It is also important to point out that all humans, according to this passage, are, at least potentially, possessed of “the creaturely faculty to attain from the blessed Creator,” though actualising this faculty would depend upon coming into contact with the archetypal forms. When the Torah commentary alludes to patterns of the supernal world, it appears to favour the language that scripture applies to the design of the Tabernacle; that is, tavnit (pattern) rather than dugmah (Ezra’s preferred vocabulary). The preference for tavnit may be related to the operation of tevunah, to which it is etymologically linked (i.e., a mode of discerning the archetypal patterns of being).95

Another passage from Šaʿar ha-Gemul affirms that Israel’s capacity to discern supernal realities from their patterns below is truly inspired—dependent upon the descent of the Holy Spirit. When inspired, the sages (ḥakhamim; i.e., those possessing wisdom) behold both the light and the voice of the seven lower sefirot (from ḥesed to ʿaṭarah) resting upon Israel’s sanctuaries. This auditory aspect of theophany is related to the prophetic function that Naḥmanides ascribed to the Tabernacle, the Temple, the Garden of Eden, and so forth. Prophetic inspiration enables the sages to discern the signature of divine realities within the sevenfold structure of the harp (kinnor) contained within the Temple and the candelabrum contained within the Tabernacle.

The harp and the musical instruments in the Sanctuary allude to the attainment of thought which is dependent upon the spirit. And there is nothing as subtle in the physical realm as music. This is similar to the subject of “voice, speech, and spirit” [Sefer Yeṣirah 1:9] which is the Holy Spirit. In this world, the sages perceive seven sefirot by the Holy Spirit. Their light is attached to the Tabernacle and the Temple, and they are alluded to in the seven lamps of the candelabrum,96 and in some of the offerings.97 […] The sages thus spoke of the seven-string harp as the instrument of the aforementioned “voice” in this world.98

The text goes on to indicate that in contrast to the sevenfold character of the divine world that Israel apprehended within their previous sanctuaries, they will apprehend eight gradations at the time of the messianic redemption. They will yet attain the fullness of the tenfold divinity in the world-to-come: “The harp in the era of the Messiah will consist of eight strings […]; that of the world-to-come will consist of ten strings.”99 This teaching affirms that the messianic redemption would augment Israel’s capacity for both understanding and knowledge, two attributes which, as demonstrated, possess a technical meaning for Naḥmanides.100 Accordingly, the messianic era is a time in which these faculties would be actualised to a degree that was unprecedented during Israel’s exile.

5 What Does the Messiah Know?

And wisdom will be the virtue of the Messiah, and his nearness to God: for neither Abraham, whom the glorious and fearful Name speaks of as “His friend” (Isa 41:8) and with whom He likewise made a covenant; nor Moses, who was nearer to God than any human; nor the ministering angels […] approach so closely to the knowledge of the Name [yediʿat hashem] as the Messiah. […] Hence, Isaiah writes that “he will be exalted” (Isa 52:13) in his intellect [be-śikhlo], enabling him to profoundly comprehend the Name [yaśkil meʾod et hashem], and [to be] greatly exalted and lofty in the modes of knowledge of his blessed Name [naśaʾ ve-gavah meʾod bi-yediʿot hašem], more so than all the prophets before him.101

When Naḥmanides disputed Friar Paú Crestià and other Dominican friars in Barcelona in July, 1263,102 one of the questions debated was: “Do you believe that the Messiah prophesied by the prophets will be both entirely human, and truly divine [iš gamur we-eloah mammaš]?”103 By all indications, Naḥmanides defended the rabbinic position that there is no basis for the divinity of the human Messiah predicted by scripture. Nonetheless, his defence of the Messiah’s thoroughgoing humanity, as preserved in the Hebrew account of the disputation, is buoyed into the realm of divinity by Naḥmanides’s assertion of the human Messiah’s complete investiture with the divine attributes. In fact, the Messiah is vested with the same divine attributes of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge mooring so much early kabbalistic speculation.

Against his opponent’s insistence that rabbinic wisdom demonstrates the humanity of Israel’s redeemer, Friar Paú, per Naḥmanides’s account, pressed for the divinity of the prophesied Messiah, citing an amoraic midrash on Genesis 1:2 (the same tradition invoked by Ezra to identify the spirit of the Messiah with the emanation of wisdom and understanding): “In Genesis Rabbah, they say, ‘And the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. This is the spirit of Messiah.’104 If so, [the Messiah] is not man; he is the spirit of God.”105 To this, Naḥmanides replied, on the authority of another tradition, that the verse referred to “the spirit of the first human.”106 Naḥmanides thus demonstrated that when interpreted according to its context, the midrash cited by the friar reads Genesis 1:2 in reference to a prophecy concerning Israel’s subjugation to four successive kingdoms.107 Accordingly, the four elements of primordial chaos mentioned in the Genesis verse refer to the four kingdoms of Babylon, Media, Greece, and Rome. But “the spirit of God” hovering “over the face of the deep” refers to the human Messiah insofar as he will redeem Israel from foreign rule. In making this point, however, Naḥmanides qualified the midrashic identification of “the spirit of God” with the Messiah in a manner befitting the latter’s exalted humanity:

[After mentioning the penultimate reign of Rome, the midrash] introduces “the spirit of God” that represents the Messiah, a consummate human (adam gamur), full of wisdom and full of the spirit of God, as were Bezalel, of whom it is said, “and I have filled him with the spirit of God [wisdom, understanding, and knowledge],” (Exod 31:3)—and Joshua— of whom it is said, “And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom” (Deut 34:9). It now stands explained that they [the ancient sages] were speaking of the Messiah who is destined to come after the fourth kingdom.108

In the process of defending the non-divinity of the Messiah, the sage adduced a handy exegetical tradition concerning the kind of sublime knowledge that the Messiah would possess. On the one hand, the tradition refers to a concretely human mode of knowing. On the other, it is a mode of knowing that is ordered to the structures and processes of the divinity, and one that is divinely imparted. The Naḥmanidean terminology of a “creaturely faculty to attain from the blessed Creator” may be the most succinct language to qualify this class of knowledge.109 When Naḥmanides’s defence is prefaced by the foregoing analysis, readers will recognise the sense underlying the sage’s equation of the Messiah’s knowledge with that of Bezalel. This is an equation with firm midrashic precedent, and one rife with kabbalistic significance when illuminated by Naḥmanides’s broader corpus. The defence, as reported in the Hebrew account of the disputation, identifies the Messiah not only with Bezalel, but also with Adam, the initial figure to whom Naḥmanides referred the phrase “the spirit of God” to convey the divine character of his knowledge. What about Joshua, the third “consummate human” identified with the Messiah?

It is only appropriate that Joshua the son of Nun—custodian of the Tabernacle, successor to none less than Moses, and leader of Israel into its Land110 —is characterised in both a messianic and a kabbalistic vein.111 Consider, for example, the following inquiry into Joshua’s name from the Torah commentary, which functions (similarly to Naḥmanides’s inquiry into Bezalel’s name) to underscore the superlative character of knowledge traditionally ascribed to Moses’s acolyte:

Why [of all the times that Joshua the son of Nun is cited in scripture] is the name of this righteous man not once mentioned properly [i.e., why is his name vocalised as bin Nun rather than ben Nun]?! […] I think that they used to call him in this way as an honorific, since he was the greatest of the disciples of Moses our teacher. And so they called him bin-nun, meaning “the understanding one” [ha-navon], since there was “none so understanding and wise” [navon we-ḥakham]112 as he.113

After indicating that the idiosyncratic vocalisation of Joshua’s name bespeaks his stature in knowledge—using terminology closely linked to the attributes of tevunah and ḥokhmah—the inquiry takes an explicitly kabbalistic turn. Thus, the commentary suggests another explanation of his honorific: “It may be that the meaning of it is: Joshua, whom understanding begot [yehošuaʿ še-ha- binah molid].”114 This startling explanation tropes Joshua as the very issue of binah (i.e., tevunah),115 the ultimate source of divinely bestowed understanding (and, elsewhere, the source of “the spirit of God”).116 This not only suggests the modality of archetypal discernment discussed above, but also a messianic characterisation of the figure who ushered Israel into its Land. This is confirmed when the text continues: “They thus used the term nun as in the expression,117 ‘may his name endure [yinnon] as long as the sun.’”118 In connecting Joshua’s name with Yinnon, the text alludes to an ancient tradition ascribed to the school of Yannai, according to which Yinnon is the name of the Messiah.119

In sum, the Messiah will possess Adamic knowledge that Naḥmanides described (in the above-cited passage from Šaʿar ha-Gemul) as the discernment of supernal archetypes within the forms and patterns inscribed in the terrestrial Eden, the Tabernacle, the Temple, and so forth;120 he will possess the intellectual attributes of Joshua, who is not only characterised in explicitly messianic terms, but is named “Joshua, whom understanding begot” (recall Ezra’s claim that the messianic spirit emanates from both wisdom and understanding121 ); finally, the Messiah will be like Bezalel, who, in addition to being filled with “the spirit of God,” will embody the three creative-intellectual attributes, show proficiency in letter combination and the account of creation, possess comprehensive knowledge of the Tabernacle’s secrets (including the rationales of its commandments), and demonstrate a special capacity for contemplation and intentional consciousness. Undergirding all of this seems to be the assumption that a human Messiah who would come to build a new sanctuary would require precisely the kind of knowledge ascribed to these figures, and to Bezalel above all.122 It thus appears that, per Naḥmanides, the dissemination of Kabbalah would potentiate the unfolding of redemption in the concrete ways indicated.

6 Conclusion: Kabbalah as Redemptive Knowledge

Scholarship has duly portrayed Kabbalah as a redemptive enterprise from its inception. This picture is supported by its appearance as a written discourse at the cusp of the sixth millennium; its rhetoric of esotericism (viewed in connection with the end-time motif of revealing secrets); as well as its pietistic elements (befitting a movement harbouring messianic expectations). Perhaps the clearest indication of the messianic profile of early Kabbalah, however, is the fact that several of its protagonists—Jacob ben Saul the Nazirite of Lunel, Ezra ben Solomon of Gerona, Asher ben David of Posquières, and, most famously, Naḥmanides—applied their exegetical skills to calculating the time of Israel’s redemption (ḥešbon ha-qeṣ) despite the established prohibition against such activity. It is now possible to correlate the early kabbalists’ eschatological orientation with the threefold speculation analysed in this study.123 To reiterate my hypothesis, Naḥmanides, largely on the basis of earlier teachings, understood Kabbalah as the artisanal knowledge needed to realise both the concrete and spiritual processes of Israel’s redemption.

It is, of course, curious that key support for this hypothesis derives from a disputational context. Would not such a context by its very nature constrain any testimony to Jewish messianism (let alone an arcane vein of messianic lore about Bezalel)? When interrogating these constraints, one does well to avoid theorising about a messianic double bind too generically (e.g., the structural diagnosis of messianism as an intrinsically conflicted confession of hope for a hope-negating arrival).124 Such an approach would miss the particulars of an ideational trajectory leading from (a) the expectations fostered by the Catalonian speculation to (b) Naḥmanides’s polemical and inherently political assertion of the Bezalel-type Messiah at Barcelona. This trajectory may be interpreted in the specific terms of a messianic bind vis-à-vis Christianity, or more specifically, vis-à-vis the “innovative” Dominican mission to the Jews of Aragon exemplified by the Disputation at Barcelona.125 Within these parameters, any intimation of messianic arrival on the part of the Jews would have rendered the defence vulnerable in obvious ways. Of course, in addition to the embattled question of the Messiah’s divinity,126 Naḥmanides also disputed the time of his coming. Even so, the sage lived at a moment when the knowledge needed to catalyse the work of redemption had newly emerged to the light of history. In fact, he played an outstanding, even unparalleled role in bringing that moment to a head.

The complex binding Naḥmanides’s testimony is, to be sure, characterised by the simultaneous avowal and disavowal of messianic advent.127 On the one hand, the Ramban committed himself to defending the position of non-arrival within the dispositional milieu: Israel had anointed no such latter-day King to satisfy all criteria. On the other, Naḥmanides sowed the seeds of advent via eschatology and Kabbalah. The time for disseminating the “hidden wisdom” had indeed arrived.128 The tension, to be precise, results from the fact that Naḥmanides disputed the Messiah’s appearance while heralding his advent through the propagation of messianic knowledge.129 Did the Trinity complex for which Kabbalah became infamous arise from the context of an earlier Messiah complex based on the same midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer? Notwithstanding the historical, thematic, and textual intersections shared by these complexes, they may be distinguished in terms of the articles of Christian faith they narrowly evade: the Trinity in de León’s case,130 and the Messiah’s arrival for Naḥmanides.

In either case, the significant authority vested in the midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer would have obstructed any hope of discharging the attendant burdens of disambiguation. Not only did this ostensibly ancient midrash support the task of projecting the kabbalists’ theosophical speculation backwards into the rabbinic past and furnishing it with an honourable pedigree, but it also supported the forward projection of theosophical speculation onto the horizon of Israel’s redemption. The midrash likewise performed the discursive work of authorising a host of constitutional facets of the “hidden wisdom,” including the theosophical appropriation of the account of creation (maʿaśeh berešit); the theogonic transition from a threefold to a tenfold established in its edifice (binyan); the primordiality of the Hebrew letters and their creative-constructive function; the theophanic character of Israel’s sanctuaries; the doctrine of isomorphism generally; and the epistemology of archetypal discernment. These factors, it seems, compelled the discourse to double down and intensify its commitments in the face of Israel’s perplexities before “strange faiths.”

From all of this, it would be patently false to conclude by generalizing that “the school of Catalonia promoted ideas and beliefs that tended [by dint of an unconscious mimetic impulse] to dissipate many of the fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity.”131 The development of the early discourse in Gerona was by no means hellbent on the assimilation of Christian theology. It was more demonstrably motivated by a calculated engagement with Christianity that was firmly committed to Israel’s distinctive eschatological destiny. To be sure, the discourse fixated upon a midrash that had been exploited by Christian apologists. But it did so with the intention of securing its hermeneutical grip upon an aggadic heritage claimed by Maimonidean philosophers and Christian apologists alike—as if to prove that “strange religions […] have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”132 The restoration of the Glory to Jerusalem, contingent on the arrival of a Messiah embodying “wisdom, understanding, and knowledge,” would, per the integrative reading of Naḥmanides advanced here, vindicate the truth of Israel. Naḥmanides’s last known public address may best exemplify his hope for the restoration of God’s house. Spoken at Acre on the occasion of the Jewish New Year 5029 (1268 CE), his words capture a longing to behold the return of the Glory as it dwelt of old upon the Tabernacle, as it rested upon the cherubim in Ezekiel’s vision:

The beauty of the world is the Land of Israel. The beauty of the Land of Israel is Jerusalem. The beauty of Jerusalem is the Temple. The beauty of the Temple is the place of the Holy of Holies. The beauty of the Holy of Holies is the place of the cherubim for the Glory resides there, as it is said, “And there will I meet with thee, and I will speak with thee from above the ark-cover, from between the cherubim.”133 It is also said, “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock, You Who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.”134 It is further said,135 “This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river Chebar, and I knew that they were cherubim.”136

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1

Moses Naḥmanides, Kitvey Ramban, ed. Charles B. Chavel, 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kook, 2006), 1:280; translation based on Naḥmanides, Writings and Discourses, ed. Charles B. Chavel (Brooklyn: Shilo, 1978), 2:607–8. All citations from Naḥmanides’s Torah commentary are based on Naḥmanides, Commentary on the Torah by Moshe ben Nachman (Nachmanides), ed. Charles B. Chavel, 2 vols., 4th ed. (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kook, 1967); all translations thereof are adapted from Naḥmanides, Commentary on the Torah, trans. Charles B. Chavel, 5 vols. (Brooklyn: Shilo, 1999).

2

Consider, e.g., the oft-quoted statement from Abraham Abulafia’s composition We-Zot li-Yehudah: “The masters of the Kabbalah of the sefirot thought to unify the divine name and escape the faith of the Trinity, but they made a division into ten. And just as the Gentiles say that there are three and that the three are one, so some of the masters of the Kabbalah avow and proclaim that the divinity is the ten sefirot, and that the ten are one.” See Adolf [Aharon] Jellinek, Ginzey Ḥokhmat ha-Kabbalah (Leipzig, 1853), 19.

3

On the term “secret of faith” (sod ha-emunah), see Jeremy Phillip Brown, “Gazing into their Hearts: On the Appearance of Kabbalistic Pietism in Thirteenth-Century Castile,” European Journal of Jewish Studies (2020): 193.

4

On the term “secret of unity” (sod ha-yiḥud), see Jonatan M. Benarroch, “‘The Mystery of Unity’: Poetic and Mystical Aspects of a Unique Zoharic Shema Mystery,” Association for Jewish Studies Review 37 (2013): 231–56; with specific reference to threefold unity, see Jeremy Phillip Brown and Avishai Bar-Asher, “The Enduring Female: Differentiating Moses de León’s Early Androgynology,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 28 (2021): 21–53, esp. 29–33. Noteworthy in connection with this term is the language used by Naḥmanides to ascribe Trinitarian belief to his Dominican opponent in the context of the Disputation of Barcelona (huʾ maʾamin be-yiḥud gemurah we-ʿim kol zeh yeš bo šaloš we-huʾ davar ʿamoq meʾod); see Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:320.

5

See n. 7 below.

6

On the prohibition against disclosing secrets of Torah to non-Jews, see, e.g., Zohar 3:73a–b.

7

Moses ben Shem Tov, R. Moses de León’s Sefer Šeqel ha-Qodeš [Hebrew], ed. Charles Mopsik (Los Angeles: Cherub Press, 1996), 101; Yehuda Liebes, Studies in the Zohar, trans. Arnold Schwartz, Stephanie Nakache, and Penina Peli (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1993), 141–42. Compare the language of Zohar 2:43b when discussing the three names in the šemaʿ: “Here are three names. How can they be one? Even though we say one, how can they be one?”.

8

Adolf Jellinek, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Kabbala, 2 vols. (Leipzig: C.L. Fritzsche, 1852), 2:51– 56 (“Christlicher Einfluß auf die Kabbala”), esp. 54; see George Kohler, Kabbalah Research in the Wissenschaft des Judentums (1820–1880) (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019), 114; on the research of nineteenth-century scholars on various aspects of the Kabbalah-Trinity conundrum, especially in relation to the question of Kabbalah’s antiquity, see there 43, 60, 63, 97–98, 113–14, 151, 168, 193, 219, 230, 239, 249–50.

9

The example from de León is only the most apropos to the present study. Scholars have adduced other examples of para-Trinitarian speculation in contemporaneous kabbalistic sources; see, e.g., Moshe Idel, Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1988), 52–53; Idel, “Abraham Abulafia: A Kabbalist ‘Son of God’ on Jesus and Christianity,” in Jesus among the Jews: Representation and Thought, ed. Neta Stahl (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012), 60–93; Idel, “Abulafia on the Jewish Messiah and Jesus,” Immanuel 11 (1980): 64–80; Harvey J. Hames, The Art of Conversion: Christianity and Kabbalah in the Thirteenth Century (Leiden: Brill, 2000); Hames, Like Angels on Jacob’s Ladder: Abraham Abulafia, the Franciscans and Joachimism (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2007); Hames, “It Takes Three to Tango: Ramon Llull, Solomon ibn Adret and Alfonso of Valladolid Debate the Trinity,” Medieval Encounters 15 (2009): 199–224; Robert Sagerman, The Serpent Kills or the Serpent Gives Life: The Kabbalist Abraham Abulafia’s Response to Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 2011); Elliot R. Wolfson, “Textual Flesh, Incarnation, and the Imaginal Body: Abraham Abulafia’s Polemic with Christianity,” in Studies in Medieval Jewish Intellectual and Social History: Festschrift in Honor of Robert Chazan, ed. David Engel, Lawrence H. Schiffman, and Elliot R. Wolfson (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 189–226; Jonatan Benarroch, Sava and Yanuka: God, the Son, and the Messiah in Zoharic Narratives [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2018).

10

Jeremy Phillip Brown, “On the Censorship of Anti-Christian Polemic in Early Kabbalah,” Association for Jewish Studies Review (forthcoming).

11

E.g., José Faur, “A Crisis of Categories: Kabbalah and the Rise of Apostasy in Spain,” in The Jews of Spain and the Expulsion of 1492, ed. Moshe Lazar and Stephen Haliczer (Lancaster, CA: Labyrinthos, 1997), 41–64.

12

Here, I am engaging de León’s discourse as representative, though from a later period, there is evidence of Jewish efforts to untie the knot binding Trinitarian to kabbalistic modes of speculation through the use of theological distinctions between the categories of persona on the one hand and relational attributes on the other; see, for example, the fourteenth-century treatment of Profayt Duran in Kelimat ha-Goyim (1397) discussed in Daniel Lasker, Jewish Philosophical Polemics against Christianity in the Middle Ages (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press; Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2007), 74–75; Maud Kozodoy, The Secret Faith of Maestre Honoratus: Profayt Duran and Jewish Identity in Late Medieval Iberia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 136; Carsten L. Wilke, “Historicizing Christianity and Profiat Duran’s Kelimat ha-Goyim,” Medieval Encounters 22 (2016): 140–64, esp. 155–56. Note also the provocative view reported by Duran that Jesus of Nazareth was himself in possession of a distorted version of an ostensibly pre-Christian doctrine; Duran modified this view with the suggestion that the influence of Kabbalah crept in only in late strata of the New Testament. Either view—equally impossible—would explain the origin of Trinitarian speculation as the errant child of a nonetheless honourable pedigree.

13

E.g., Yitzhak Baer, “The Qabbalistic Doctrine in the Christological Teaching of Abner of Burgos” [Hebrew], Tarbiz 27 (1958): 278–89; Isaiah Tishby, Wisdom of the Zohar, 3:973–74; Liebes, Studies, 141–42.

14

Ryan Szpiech, Conversion and Authority: Reading and Religious Authority in Medieval Polemic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 143–73; Shalom Sadik, “When Maimonideans and Kabbalists Convert to Christianity,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 24 (2017): 154–55.

15

See the preliminary assessment in Moshe Idel, Middot: On the Emergence of Kabbalistic Theosophies (Brooklyn: Ktav Publishing House, 2021), 231–41.

16

Solomon Buber, ed., Midrash Tehillim (Šoḥer Ṭov) [Hebrew] (Vilna, 1891), 279 (Psalm 50); William Braude, trans. The Midrash on Psalms (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1959), 1:468.

17

Joseph ben Nathan Official, Sepher Joseph Hamekane, ed. Judah Rosenthal (Jerusalem: Mekize Nirdamim, 1970), 57–58 (cf. 65, and 107, on Ps 50:1); Niṣaḥon Yašan in Peter Berger, ed., The Jewish-Christian Debate in the High Middle Ages: A Critical Edition of the Niẓẓaḥon Vetus (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979), 40 (par. 61; Hebrew pagination).

18

Per the text as edited by Buber: “Why does the phrase ‘God, the Lord God’ occur twice here? Once to stand for the three attributes by which the world was created; and once again to stand for the three attributes whereby the Torah was given.” See Buber, ed., Midrash Tehillim, 279; Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, 1:468. On Josh 22:22, see y. Ber. 9:1, 12d; Julius Theodor and Chanoch Albeck, eds., Midrash Bereshit Rabba: Critical Edition with Notes and Commentary, 2nd printing (Jerusalem: Shalem, 1996), 1:62–63 (8:9; see variant in the apparatus on p. 63 for line 5, citing the verse).

19

Abner of Burgos/Alfonso de Valladolid; translation adapted from Jonathan L. Hecht, “The Polemical Exchange between Isaac Pollegar and Abner of Burgos/Alfonso of Valladolid According to Parma MS 2440: Iggeret Teshuvat Apikoros and Teshuvot la-Meḥaref ” (PhD diss., New York University, 1993), 144–47; see Walter Mettmann, Die volkssprachliche apologetische Literatur auf der Iberischen Halbinsel im Mittelalter (Opladen: Nordrhein- Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1987), 52–55; Shoshanna G. Gershenzon, “A Study of Teshuvot la-Meḥaref by Abner of Burgos” (PhD diss., Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York, 1984), 86–136; Gershenzon, “Midrash and Exegesis in the Christological Argument of Abner of Burgos,” Hebrew Abstracts 15 (1974): 96–100; Faur, “A Crisis of Categories,” 57; Jeff Diamond, “El tema de la Trinidad en el Libro de la ley de Alfonso de Valladolid,” Sefarad 57 (1997): 33–49; Yaacob Dweck, The Scandal of Kabbalah: Leon Modena, Jewish Mysticism, Early Modern Venice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), 154–55.

20

See Liebes, Studies, 140–45.

21

Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 121–22.

22

m. ʾAbot 5:1; Judah Goldin, trans., The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1955), 125 (31); Anthony J. Saldarini, ed. and trans., The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan: Abot de Rabbi Nathan—Version Β: A Translation and Commentary (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 212 (36); b. Roš. Haš. 32a, b. Ḥag. 12a; Louis Finkelstein, Introduction to the Treatises Abot and Abot of Rabbi Natan [Hebrew] (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1950), 84–87.

23

Some witnesses to this section are preceded by an account of the ten creative utterances, in contrast to standard recensions of the text: see, e.g., MS New York, Hebrew Union College, Klau Library 75, 4a–b, and the printed version from 1544, 5d–6a; Dagmar Borner-Klein, ed., Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer: Nach der Edition Venedig 1544 unter Berücksichtigung der Edition Warschau 1852 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2004), 24–27; these may be contrasted with MS New York, Hebrew Union College, Klau Library 2043, 2a, and the editio princeps from Constantinople (1514), 2b.

24

Pirqe R. El. 3:12–13. Translation adapted from Gerald Friedlander, Pirkē de Rabbi Eliezer (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co; New York: Bloch, 1916), 17–19.

25

On wisdom in general, as an attribute of the Messiah (and the propagation of wisdom as an indication of the messianic time) in Maimonides’s theology, see Aviezer Ravitzky, “‘To the Utmost Human Capacity’: Maimonides on the Days of the Messiah,” in Perspectives on Maimonides, ed. Joel L. Kraemer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 227, 234, 247–48.

26

b. Ḥag. 12a: “Rav Zutra bar Tuvya said that Rav said: The world was created through ten attributes: Through wisdom, through understanding, through knowledge, through strength, through rebuke, through might, through righteousness, through justice, through kindness, and through mercy.” See Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, trans. Allan Arkush, ed. R.J. Zwi Werblowsky (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), 82–83, for the unlikely comparison of this rabbinic wisdom to gnostic cosmology.

27

Specifically, Ezra upheld an ostensibly platonic interpretation of a midrash from the third chapter of Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer concerning the creation of the heavens and the earth from pre-existent light and snow respectively, one that was apparently criticised by Maimonides in Guide of the Perplexed, 2:26. In a letter apparently addressed to Abraham the Cantor of Gerona, Ezra wrote of Maimonides’s apparent denigration of the midrash that “in this matter Rabbi Moses came against the tradition (ke-neged ha-qabbalah)”; see Gershom Scholem, “Teʿudah Ḥadašah le-Toldot Rešit ha-Kabbalah” [Hebrew], in Sefer Bialik, ed. Jacob Fichman (Tel Aviv: Ommanut, 1934), 157 (a similar use of this midrash is attested in Ezra ben Solomon of Gerona, Peruš le-Šir ha-Širim, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:493–94; Ezra ben Solomon of Gerona, Commentary on the Song of Songs, trans. Seth Brody [Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999], 69–70; and also Ezra’s commentary on the rabbinic legends, MS Vatican Cod. ebr. 441, 69a–b; all three discussions of the midrash—in the commentary on the Song of Songs, the letter, and the aggadah commentary—turn upon the exegesis of Solomon building a “palanquin” or apiryon in Song 3:9 [glossed by Rashi, ad loc, as a Tent of Meeting within the Tabernacle at Shiloh, per Josh 18:1]). See too Alexander Altmann, “A Note on the Rabbinic Doctrine of Creation,” Journal of Jewish Studies 7 (1956): 195–206; Jonathan Dauber, Knowledge of God and the Development of Early Kabbalah (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 37–38 n. 29; see too where Ezra’s letter (159) refers to another topos in Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer (cap. 4) related to the “account of the chariot” rather than the “account of creation,” viz. the four faces of Ezekiel’s chariot. Since this study deals in part with the theophanic function of Israel’s sanctuaries, it bears mention that Ezra prefaced his letter by recounting, in the spirit of dissent, Maimonides’s assertion that one will not be harmed by understanding the Glory of the Lord that filled the Tabernacle as “created light” (Guide 1:5 and 1:19—a nod on Maimonides’s part to the doctrine of Saadia Gaon; see Esti Eisenmann, “The Term ‘Created Light’ in Maimonides’ Philosophy” [Hebrew], Daat 55 [2004/5]: 41–57). This doctrine—which Maimonides tolerated because it neutralised the spectre of corporeality from the scriptural accounts of theophany—was diametrically opposed to Ezra’s espousal of an ostensibly platonic position. Opposing the doctrine of created light helped Ezra to articulate a theosophically nuanced metaphysics of pre-existent light, and a correspondingly substantial concept of theophany. Thus, the aggadic midrashim, and Pirke Rabbi Eliezer in particular, lay at the centre of a hermeneutic contest between kabbalists and philosophers. Ezra’s overt endorsement of a Platonic position on creation may be contrasted with the restrained approach adopted by Naḥmanides in “The Law of the Lord is Perfect” (Torat YHWH Temimah); see Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:159; Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 1:83–84. This campaign may be seen within the broader context of the intensive engagement with midrash on the part of the early kabbalists in Catalonia and the closely linked personality of Judah ben Yaqar; thereon, see Shalem Yahalom, “Tanhuma in Masquerade: Discovering the Tanhuma in the Latter Midrash Rabbah Texts,” in Studies in the Tanhuma-Yelammedenu Literature, ed. Ronit Nikolsky and Arnon Atzmon (Leiden: Brill, 2021), 222–45.

28

Judah ben Barzilai, Commentar zum Sepher Jezira [Hebrew], ed. Solomon Halberstam (Berlin: Mekize Nirdamim, 1885), 2, 7; see 75, where the text specifies the artisan’s extraction from the Tribe of Judah. See too Pedaya, Name and Sanctuary, 49.

29

Scholem (Origins, 124) attempted to locate the theosophical interpretation of the midrash from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer within Sefer ha-Bahir; however, the three attributes are disjoined within the Bahir. Moreover, Scholem’s claim that the midrash served to support the kabbalists’ predilection for bifurcating the ten sefirot into units of three upper and seven lower sefirot is misleading; this is because, as I will show, the early kabbalists seem to have understood the three intellectual attributes as encompassing the divine totality.

30

For what seems to be the earliest paraphrase, see Naḥmanides’s commentary on Job 28:27, and adduced in the name of baʿaley ha-qabbalah: “‘Then He saw it’—[that is, God beheld] the primordial thought, and he brought forth from it sefer, and sefar, and sippur [the three primordial books mentioned in Sefer Yeṣirah 1:1], and wisdom, understanding, and knowledge”; see Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:90. See too Menahem Recanati, Peruš ha-Reqanaṭi, ed. Amnon Gross, 2 vols. (Tel Aviv: Barzani, 2003), 1:15, which adduces a paraphrase in the name of “Azriel”; Abraham Axelrod of Cologne, Keter Shem Ṭov, edited in “Ueber das Tetragrammaton von Abraham aus Cöln,” in Auswahl kabbalistischer Mystik, ed. Adolf Jellinek (Leipzig: Colditz, 1853), 1:47–48 (Hebrew pagination).

31

Naḥmanides, Peruš le-Sefer Iyyov, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:90; in connection with the pedigree of this tradition, it is relevant to recall that Ezra alluded to a kabbalistic interpretation of Job 28 on the authority of “he-ḥasid” (see below n73); if this epithet does not refer to Isaac “the Blind” but rather to Jacob ben Saul the Nazirite of Lunel, then it is perhaps relevant to recall that we possess an extant portion of a Job commentary attributed to the latter (though not on chapter 28); see Jordan S. Penkower, “The End of Rashi’s Commentary on Job: The Manuscripts and the Printed Editions,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 10 (2003): 18–48, esp. 21–22. On Naḥmanides’s endorsement of this tradition, see Georges Vajda, Le commentaire d’Ezra de Gerone sur le Cantique des Cantiques (Paris: Aubier Montaigne, 1969), 271–91; Moshe Idel, “We Have No Kabbalistic Tradition on This,” in Rabbi Moses Nahmanides (Ramban): Explorations in His Religious and Literary Virtuosity, ed. Isadore Twersky (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 56–58; Yakov M. Travis, “Kabbalistic Foundations of Jewish Spiritual Practice: Rabbi Ezra of Gerona—On the Kabbalistic Meaning of the Mitzvot” (PhD diss., Brandeis University, 2002), 312–15, etc.

32

Vajda, Le commentaire, 271–91.

33

The phrase “like a woman to her sister” is based on a biblical idiom for joining like parts used to describe the Tabernacle’s construction; Exod 26:3, 5, 6, 17; cf. Ezek 1:9, 23; and Lev 18:18. For an alternate theosophical usage of this biblical idiom, see Jacob ben Sheshet of Gerona, “Šaʿar ha-Šamayim,” Ozar Nechmad 3 (1860): 154; Nahora Gabay, “Sefer Shaʿar ha-Shamayim (The Book Gate of Heaven) by Rabbi Yacov ben Sheshet Girondi: Scientific Edition Including Forward and Annotations” [Hebrew] (MA thesis, Tel Aviv University, 1988), 103; and Jacob ben Sheshet of Gerona, Mešiv Devarim Nekhoḥim, ed. Georges Vajda (Jerusalem: Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1968), 147 (cap. 16).

34

Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš le-Šir ha-Širim, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:483–84; translation adapted from Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 37–38.

35

Sefer Yeṣirah 1:1. The equation of (a) the three primordial books with (b) wisdom, understanding, and knowledge results from harmonising two theologoumena: (a) the claim from Sefer Yeṣirah that God created the world from three books, and (b) the claim from Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer that God created the world from the three intellectual attributes. Compare the Pseudo-Naḥmanidean Sefer Yeṣirah commentary attributed to Azriel of Gerona in scholarship (ad loc; printed in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 453), where the three books refer to the “three names which that are called ‘the essence of the Name,’ which are included in it,” and also “the three letters of the Name—yod, heh, waw, in which everything in included” (i.e., the three letters of the “great name” alluded to in Sefer Yeṣirah); see Vajda, Le commentaire, 283. Compare the commentary on this lemma erroneously ascribed to Isaac “the Blind” ben Abraham of Posquières (see Gershom Scholem, Ha-Qabbalah be-Provans [Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1963], 1 [appendix pagination]): “They [the three books] are three names that are in three letters that receive and are received from them” (this parallels the interpretation ascribed to Azriel above, in which the three books correspond to yod, heh, and waw); subsequently, the same commentary singles out the yod, which is said to seal the edifice of sefirot formed by combinations of the three letters of the “great Name”: “The sefirot are a foundation, and they are an interiority. The foundation of the edifice made with them is the letters, like stones from the mountain.” Compare too Judah ha-Levi, Kuzari, IV:25; ha-Levi, Das Buch al-Chazarî des Abû-l-Ḥasan Jehuda Hallewi im arabischen Urtext sowie in der hebräischen Übersetzung des Jehuda Ibn Tibbon, ed. Hartwig Hirschfeld (Leipzig: Otto Schulze, 1887), 268–71 (both Judaeo-Arabic and Tibbonide Hebrew); ha-Levi, The Kuzari (Kitab al Khazari): An Argument for the Faith of Israel, trans. Hartwig Hirschfeld (New York: Schocken Books, 1964), 228–30. Compare too ha-Levi’s account of the creative function of sefar (i.e., number; 228) with Ezra’s description of God’s work of self-fashioning from letters: “As to sefar it means the calculation and weighing of the created bodies. The calculation which is required for the harmonious and advantageous arrangement of a body is based on a numerical figure. Expansion, measure, weight, relation of movements, and musical harmony, all these are based on a number expressed by the word sefar.”

36

Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš le-Šir ha-Širim, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:483; translation adapted from Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 37.

37

On the theosophical vocabulary of binyan, see Mark Sendor, “The Emergence of Provencal Kabbalah: Rabbi Isaac the Blind’s Commentary on Sefer Yezirah” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1994), 1:336–42 (and 361 n. 258).

38

For related speculation on the three creative-intellectual attributes, see Jacob ben Sheshet, Sefer ha-Emunah we-ha-Biṭṭaḥon, cap. 12 and 14, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:386, and 391.

39

The commentary of Solomon ben Isaac of Troyes (Rashi) already interprets the divine act of gauging wisdom described in Job 28:27 in terms of God counting the letters of the Torah; Rashi’s commentary on the verse goes on to invoke the authority of Sefer Yeṣirah to claim that God “created each and every thing with these letters.”

40

b. Ber. 55a: “Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: Bezalel knew to join letters with which heaven and earth were created. It is written here: ‘And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge [and in all manner of workmanship]’ [Exod 31:3]; and it is written there ‘The Lord, by wisdom, founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens’ [Prov 3:19], and it is written: ‘By His knowledge the depths were broken up and the skies drop down the dew’ [Prov 3:20].”

41

See Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, trans. Ralph Mannheim (New York: Schocken Books, 1965), 166–67; Moshe Idel, Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), 31–32; Tzahi Weiss, Sefer Yeṣirah and Its Contexts: Other Jewish Voices (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 39–40 (for references to Bezalel’s knowledge of letter combination in the Hekhalot corpus, see there 149 n. 27).

42

On the creative function of language in kabbalistic speculation generally, see Elliot R. Wolfson, Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005).

43

Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš le-Šir ha-Širim, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:495; translation adapted from Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 73.

44

Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš le-Šir ha-Širim, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:495; translation adapted from Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 73.

45

On the sequence of Ezra’s compositions, see Haviva Pedaya, “‘Possessed by Speech’: Towards an Understanding of the Prophetic-Ecstatic Pattern among Early Kabbalists” [Hebrew], Tarbiz 65 (2016): 568–69 n. 2.

46

MS Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Cod. Ebr. 441, fol. 48a; Abraham ben Judah Elmalik (or Elimelekh), Liqquṭey Šikheḥah u-Feʾah (Ferrara, 1556), 13a–b.

47

Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:505; Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 111; Theodor and Albeck, eds., Bereshit Rabbah, 1:17 (Gen. Rab. 2:4).

48

On Ezra’s reading of this verse, see Jacob ben Sheshet, Mešiv Devarim Nekhoḥim, 122–23 (cap. 9).

49

See discussion below.

50

Azriel of Gerona, Commentarius in Aggadot [Hebrew], ed. Isaiah Tishby (Jerusalem: Mekize Nirdamim, 1945), 86–87.

51

b. Ber. 55a.

52

Compare Naḥmanides on Gen 1:1: “The word berešit alludes to the creation of the world by ten sefirot, and hints in particular to the sefirah called wisdom (ḥokhmah), in which is the foundation of everything, even as it says, ‘The Lord founded the earth by wisdom.’” One may hypothesise that the ideational link between (a) Azriel’s assertion that the letters comprise “the foundation of everything” (cf. Ezra’s description of the letters as the raw material that God crafted into the edifice [binyan]), and (b) Naḥmanides’s view of wisdom (ḥokhmah) as “the foundation of everything” is the premise that wisdom is the source of the primordial Hebrew letters; for instance, another text ascribed to Naḥmanides refers to the thirty-two paths of wisdom, including the ten creative utterances (maʾamarot), and the twenty-two letters “with which, in their combinations, everything came into existence”—thus, all of the paths proceeding from wisdom are comprised of language and its building blocks. See Oded Yisraeli, “Initial Ideas of Nahmanides’ Kabbalah in His ‘Discourse for the Wedding’” [Hebrew], Peʿamim 153 (2018): 115; Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 1:10–11 (“Sermon for a Wedding”); and see below n. 83.

53

Ezra 2: 2, Neh 7:7; b. Menaḥ. 64b–65a.

54

Azriel of Gerona, Commentarius, 24 (my translation).

55

For a discussion exploring threefold motifs in texts ascribed to Azriel, see Karl Erich Grözinger, “The Divine Powers of Amen and Their Variations in the Thought of Rabbi Azriel of Gerona” [Hebrew], Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 6, nos. 3/4 (1987): 299–308. Also of relevance for the present study when considered against the background of the Trinitarian interest in Exod 3:14 is Rolland Goetschel, “‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh’ in the Works of the Gerona Kabbalists” [Hebrew], Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 6, nos. 3/4 (1987): 287–98, esp. 292–93, for discussion of Ezra’s gloss on the question “What is His name?” concerning Israel’s “secret of faith.”

56

E.g., Jacob ben Sheshet, Mešiv Devarim Nekhoḥim, 108 (cap. 7); cf. Ezra’s statement to the effect that all nations and languages attest to the words of Torah in his Peruš le-Šir ha-Širim, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:502–3.

57

Moshe Idel, Language, Torah, Hermeneutics in Abraham Abulafia (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1989), 1–28, esp. 9–10 (where the passage attributed to Azriel is discussed).

58

Tishby, Wisdom of the Zohar, 3:867–940; the material collected here demonstrates the inaccuracy of Tishby’s claim that “the kabbalistic literature that preceded the Zohar is […] full of terms and symbols based on the holy vessels used in the Tabernacle and the Temple, the garments of the priests, and so on, but they are concerned mainly with the symbolized divine sefirot, and only rarely with the relationship between the actual Tabernacle and Temple to the powers of God and the cosmos” (Tishby, Wisdom of the Zohar, 3:869).

59

Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš le-Šir ha-Širim, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:490; Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 57; see Travis, “Kabbalistic Foundations,” 228 n. 637.

60

Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš le-Šir ha-Širim, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:490; Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 56.

61

Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš le-Šir ha-Širim, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:490–91; Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 57–58 (citing Numbers Rabbah 12:13; see Sefer Midrash Rabbah ʿal Sefer Bamidbar [Shklov, 1814], 42a); cf. the text perhaps misattributed to Azriel, “Peruš ʿEśer Sefirot ʿal Derekh Šeʾelah u-Tešuvah” (also known as “Šaʿar ha-Šoʾel”), in Meir ben Ezekiel Ibn Gabbai, Derekh Emunah (Warsaw, 1890), 4c. Also relevant is Ezra’s appropriation of a description from Pesiqta de-Rav Kahana of a pattern that God revealed to Moses and commanded him to replicate within the construction of the Tabernacle (Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:490; Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 57; Solomon Buber, ed., Pesikta, die älteste Hagada, redigirt in Palästina von Rab Kahana [Lyck, 1868], 4b; William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein, trans., Pêsikṭa dê-Raḇ Kahâna: R. Kahana’s Compilation of Discourses for Sabbaths and Festal Days [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1975], 11). The fourfold pattern, according to the midrash, is comprised of red fire, green fire, black fire, and white fire. Ezra discerned this four-colour pattern in several instances without reference to the Tabernacle, which suggests that he embraced the idea that the supernal archetype of the Tabernacle is enshrined on high. For example, he provided an apparently original typology of the four humours as “white, red, green, and black biles” (Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš, Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:481; Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 32); to cite another example, Ezra glossed the male’s ruddy appearance in Song 5:10: “His appearance is ruddy, black, green, and white. Thus the appearance of the Holy One is like ‘the appearance of the rainbow which is within the cloud’” (Ezek 1:28; Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš, Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:502; Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 102). A letter written by Ezra to Abraham the Cantor of Gerona recounts the theosophical motif of the four colours (white, red, black, and green) on the authority of an interpretation of Job 28 attributed to “he-ḥasid” (per Scholem, this refers to Isaac ben Abraham “the Blind” of Posquières; see Scholem, “Teʿudah Ḥadašah,” 156; concerning a “Rabbi Jacob the Pious” (he-ḥasid) mentioned by Ezra in his aggadah commentary, see Scholem, Origins, 232 n. 67, where the figure is taken to be Jacob ben Saul the Nazirite of Lunel; see too Scholem, Kitvey Yad be-Qabbalah [Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1930], 202 n. 7). Compare Azriel of Gerona, Commentarius, 36; a text ascribed to Naḥmanides refers to black, green, red, and white fires on high corresponding to the colours of the four tribal banners (Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 1:17; Yisraeli, “Initial Ideas,” 118); see too the reference to the colours of the archetypal Tabernacle (tavnit we-dugmah) in Jacob ben Sheshet of Gerona, “Šaʿar ha-Šamayim,” 160 (cited on the basis of Šir ha-Širim Rabbah); and in the edition by Nahora Gabay, “Sefer Šaʿar ha-Šamayim,” 111. For later material, see Gershom Scholem, “Colours and Their Symbolism in Jewish Tradition and Mysticism,” Diogenes 108 (Winter 1979): 84–111; Scholem, “Colours and Their Symbolism in Jewish Tradition and Mysticism,” Diogenes 109 (1980): 64–77; Moshe Idel, “Kabbalistic Prayer and Colors,” in Approaches to Judaism in Medieval Times, Volume III, ed. David R. Blumenthal (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), 17–27; Idel, “Visualization of Colors, 1: David ben Yehudah he-Ḥasid’s Kabbalistic Diagram,” Ars Judaica 11 (2015): 31–54; Idel, “Visualization of Colors, 2: Implications of David ben Yehudah he-Ḥasid’s Diagram for the History of Kabbalah,” Ars Judaica 12 (2016): 39–51. On the midrashic motif of God revealing an archetype of the Tabernacle to Moses, see ha-Levi, Kuzari, I:99; ha-Levi, Das Buch al-Chazarî, 52–55; ha-Levi, The Kuzari, 72; Wolfson, Through a Speculum That Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 167.

62

Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:490.

63

Scholem, Origins, s.v. “Primordial days”; Ezra ben Solomon, Le commentaire, 292–319.

64

Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:491; Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 58.

65

Vajda, ed., Le commentaire, 425–55 (“La fin des temps et la béatitude de l’âme”); Pedaya, Name and Sanctuary, 212–13; Brown, “On the Censorship.”

66

Based ultimately on b. Suk. 52a; for an overview, see Joseph Heinemann, “The Messiah of Ephraim and the Premature Exodus of the Tribe of Ephraim,” Harvard Theological Review 68 (1975): 1–15.

67

Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:515; Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 144.

68

Ephraim Kanarfogel, “On the Assessment of R. Moses b. Nahman (Nahmanides) and His Literary Oeuvre,” Jewish Book Annual 51 (1994): 158–72; see, e.g., Idel, “No Kabbalistic Tradition”; Idel, Middot, 117–20; see, however, Idel, “Jewish Kabbalah and Platonism,” in Platonism in Jewish Thought, ed. Lenn Goodman (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2012), 329–30, where affinities between Naḥmanides and other Gerona kabbalists are adduced. For alternate approaches, see Travis, “Kabbalistic Foundations of Jewish Spiritual Practice,” 302–10; Yair Lorberbaum, “Did Nahmanides Perceive the Kabbalah as ‘Closed Knowledge’?” [Hebrew], Zion 82 (2017): 309–54; Judith Weiss, “The Kabbalah in Gerona in the 13th Century: Azriel and Nachmanides, A Re-Evaluation” [Hebrew], Tarbiz 87 (2020): 67–97; Brown, “On the Censorship,” where additional studies are adduced.

69

Wolfson, “By Way of Truth,” 162, discusses the Tabernacle’s “theophanous quality.”

70

Naḥmanides on Exod 25:1; Chavel, trans., Commentary on the Torah, 2:435–36.

71

See below, n. 78; Tishby, Wisdom of the Zohar, 3:869, points to the example of ha-Levi’s Kuzari as a medieval work of Jewish theology that “posit[s] a real relationship between the Tabernacle and the Temple in the past and an eschatological expectation in the future.” See above, n. 35.

72

Based on Job 29:4; see Naḥmanides’s commentary ad loc; Kitvey Ramban, 1:90.

73

Theodor and Albeck, eds., Bereshit Rabbah, 2:983 (Gen. Rab. 82:6).

74

Chavel, trans., Commentary on the Torah, 2:4–5.

75

Although some medieval voices basing themselves on Ps 147:2 (“the Lord builds Jerusalem”—e.g., Tishby, Wisdom of the Zohar, 3:878; Wilhelm Bacher, “Judæo-Christian Polemics in the Zohar,” Jewish Quarterly Review 3 [1881]: 781–82; Recanati, Peruš, 2:158 [Beḥuqotay]) clung to the view that the Third Temple would be erected by divine fiat (rather than by the labour of a human Messiah), it appears that Naḥmanides espoused the Maimonidean view that the Messiah himself would build the Temple; at least, he appears to have avowed the Maimonidean view in the Hebrew account of the Disputation of Barcelona when he clarified to his Dominican interlocutors the content of Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim u-Milḥamot, 11:3 (see Naḥmanides, Wikuaḥ, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:315; Robert Chazan, Barcelona and Beyond: The Disputation of 1263 and Its Aftermath [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992], 89): “If a king will arise from the House of David who diligently contemplates the Torah and observes its commandments as prescribed by the Written Torah and the Oral Torah as David, his ancestor, will compel all of Israel to walk in (the way of the Torah) and rectify the breaches in its observance, and fight the wars of God, we may, with assurance, consider him Messiah. If he succeeds in the above, builds the Temple in its place, and gathers the dispersed of Israel, he is definitely the Messiah” (Cf. Hilkhot Melakhim u-Milḥamot, 11:1: “In the future, the Messianic King will […] build the Temple”). See too Moses Maimonides, Sefer ha-Miṣwot le-ha-Rambam ʿim Haśagot šel ha-Ramban, ed. Charles b. Chavel (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kook, 1981), 163–64 (Commandment 20): “And let them make me a Sanctuary”; Exod 25:8. Regarding the figure of a predecessor to the Messiah son of David, who, per Ezra, would build Jerusalem, Naḥmanides claimed the forerunner would wage wars and begin a process of ingathering; however, after the forerunner’s death, that process would be completed by the secondary redeemer, who is likened to Joshua for his role in purifying the Land (Naḥmanides, Wikuaḥ, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:291, 294; Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 637, 648 [“Disputation at Barcelona”]); on Joshua as a proto-messianic figure, see discussion below. Notwithstanding their agreement on matters of theosophy and eschatology, it may be that Ezra and Naḥmanides differed on the question of which Messiah would accomplish which set of redemptive tasks. On the archetypal equation of the Tabernacle and the Temple in Naḥmanides, see Haviva Pedaya, Nahmanides: Cyclical Time and Holy Text [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: ʿAm ʿOved, 2003), 185 and s.v. “משכן”; Pedaya also treats traditions on this motif from the disciplines of Solomon Ibn Adret and Isaac ben Todros of Barcelona (Pedaya, Nahmanides, 183, 203 n. 133).

76

Compare with the contemporary theology of indwelling elaborated in Michael Wyschogrod, The Body of Faith: God in the People Israel (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989).

77

Though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are technically but the first three elements of the lower seven, the early kabbalists devised a reading of the rabbinic identification of the Patriarchs with the chariot (above, n. 75) according to which the latter consisted of four elements, quite significantly adding the messianic figure of David to the triumvirate of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to establish a fourfold (i.e., malkhut/ʿaṭarah); with the addition of the fourth (which is effectively the tenth sefirah, viz. the last of the seven lower sefirot), this hermeneutic not only accommodates the equation of the chariot with the full edifice comprised of the seven lower sefirot, but also underscores the messianic topos of completing the sanctuary. For early texts positing David as the fourth, see Ruth Kara-Ivanov Kaniel, “King David as the Fourth Leg of the Chariot—Gender, Identity, and Heresy,” in Canonization and Alterity: Heresy in Jewish History, Thought, and Literature, ed. Gilad Sharvit and Willi Goetschel (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2020), 96–98.

78

At least, Naḥmanides (ad Deut 33:12) discusses three different degrees of divine indwelling (šaloš šekhinot), where the degree corresponding to the future Temple will surpass the redemptive-theophanic function of the first two; see Moshe Halbertal, Nahmanides: Law and Mysticism, trans. Daniel Tabak (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020), 224; compare Naḥmanides’s view regarding the unprecedented degree of the future Temple to Maimonides’s claims that the wisdom of the coming Davidic Messiah will exceed that of Solomon; see Ravitzky, “‘To the Utmost,’” 227.

79

Exod. Rab. 40:2; scholarship has maintained that our earliest medieval citations of this late collection of aggadic midrash are found in the writings of Azriel of Gerona and Naḥmanides. See Avigdor Shinan, Midrash Shemot Rabbah: Chapters IXIV [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1984), 22–23; Yahalom, “Tanhuma in Masquerade,” 277. However, both Ezra’s Song of Songs commentary and his commentary on rabbinic lore precede Azriel and Naḥmanides in citing the compilation; see, e.g., Tishby’s introduction to Azriel of Gerona, Commentarius in Aggadot, 3.

80

Naḥmanides on Exod 31:2; Chavel, trans., Commentary on the Torah, 2:42–43. Recanati (Peruš, 1:152) repeats the final sentence of Naḥmanides’s account of Bezalel’s knowledge verbatim, without attribution.

81

The “Homily for a Wedding” text attributed to the Naḥmanides represents Bezalel’s knowledge in plainly kabbalistic terms: “What are the […] thirty-two paths [of wisdom]? They consist of the ten creative utterances with which the world was created, and the twenty-two letters [of the Hebrew alphabet] with which, in their [various] combinations, everything came into existence. And the Rabbis said: ‘Bezalel knew how to combine the letters with which heaven and earth were created.’ Conforming to them [i.e., the thirty-two paths of wisdom], the Torah is expounded through the thirty-two rules of Rabbi Nathan, which are the paths [of wisdom]. What spiritual quality makes one deserving of wisdom? It is understanding [binah], as the rabbis said, ‘The blessed Holy One gives wisdom only to one who has understanding.’ […] Understanding is the life of the human spirit, as it is said, ‘And it is the soul of God that gives them understanding’ [nišmat Šadday tevinem; Job 32:8; cf. Naḥmanides on Genesis 2:7, see below n. 116].” See Yisraeli, “Initial Ideas,” 116 (see too 98); Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 1:10–11 (“Sermon for a Wedding”).

82

Halbertal, Nahmanides, 269, refers to “the theurgic-talismanic activity of building the Tabernacle.”

83

Jacob ben Sheshet, Mešiv Devarim Nekhoḥim, 116, compares Bezalel’s knowledge of the order of constructing the Tabernacle, which is completed with the ark (based on b. Ber. 55a), with the order of creation of the world, whose telos is the world-to-come.

84

Naḥmanides on Exod 36:8; Chavel, trans., Commentary on the Torah, 2:605.

85

Cf. Naḥmanides on Exod 25:21.

86

The composition “The Law of the Lord is Perfect” (Torat YHWH Temimah) claims that the sixth day of creation, in which God made Adam in the divine likeness, alludes to the sixth millennium, in which the Messiah will reign and rebuild Jerusalem; see Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:169; Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 1:119. Cf. Naḥmanides ad Gen 1:26.

87

Sefer Yeṣirah 6:4.

88

Pedaya, “The Divinity as Place and Time,” 95–96, 100; and Pedaya, Nahmanides, s.v. “צורה, צורות,” “ציור, ציורים,” and “ציורי דברים.”

89

Jer 3:17. Cf. Naḥmanides on Deut 33:12.

90

See above n. 88.

91

Naḥmanides, Torat ha-Adam, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:296; Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 2:508–9 (“Gate of Reward”). On the passage, see Avishai Bar-Asher, Journeys of the Soul: Concepts and Imageries of Paradise in Medieval Kabbalah [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2019), 73–74.

92

Elsewhere, the same composition compares the enlightenment of the deceased soul in the lower Garden of Eden to “the soul of a person who stands in Jerusalem [and] clothes itself with the Holy Spirit, and prophetic crafts [melaʾkhot nevuʾah] by the supernal will, whether in dreams of visions, more than all of whom abide in an impure land.” See Naḥmanides, Torat ha-Adam, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:298; Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 2:515–16 (“Gate of Reward”).

93

Pedaya, “The Divinity as Place and Time,” 96.

94

Naḥmanides, Torat ha-Adam, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:296.

95

On this semantic field, see Vajda, ed., Le commentaire, 280–81.

96

Compare Naḥmanides, “Prayer at the Ruins of Jerusalem” (in Oded Yisraeli, “Jerusalem in Naḥmanides’s Religious Thought: The Evolution of the ‘Prayer over the Ruins of Jerusalem,’” Association for Jewish Studies Review 41 [2017]: 434; Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:425): “There is the pure candelabrum, / which sheds light onto the sages of Israel, / shining forth with its seven lamps. / And they that are wise shall shine / as the brightness of the firmament.” On the sevenfold candelabrum made by Bezalel as an emblem of divine unity in Sefer ha-Yiḥud, see Jonathan Dauber, Secrecy and Esoteric Writing in Kabbalistic Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022), 181–82, and 256 n. 22.

97

See b. Suk. 58b; and Naḥmanides ad Num 11:16; on the sevenfold number seventy, termed a “perfect number” (mispar šalem), Naḥmanides claimed: “It is fitting that the Glory of the shekhinah should rest upon [a group of] this perfect number, since it is [comparable to] the camp on high, for Israel are “the hosts of the Lord” (Exod 12:41) on earth, just as the Ark and its Cover and the Tabernacle were all made in the likeness of those ministers on high. So also were the tribal banners made in the image of the chariot that Ezekiel saw, in order that the shekhinah should rest upon them on earth as it is present in the heavens.” Compare “Prayer at the Ruins of Jerusalem,” (in Yisraeli, “Jerusalem,” 435 [430 for Hebrew]; Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:425): “There is the chosen place, the chamber of hewn stone, / adorned with its seventy elders and judicial courts, / glorified and honoured / like sacred ministers and ministers of God / arranged according to the heavenly pattern [le-tavnit maʿlah mesudderet].”

98

Naḥmanides, Torat ha-Adam, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:303; Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 2:528–29 (“Gate of Reward”). On this passage, see Pedaya, Nahmanides: Cyclical Time and Holy Text, 138.

99

Naḥmanides, Torat ha-Adam, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:302; Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 2:528 (“Gate of Reward”). On this, see the gloss to Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Tešuvah 8:2, by Shemṭov ben Abraham Ibn Gaon, Migdal ʿOz: pace Maimonides, Ibn Gaon upholds the eschatological paradigm of Naḥmanides’s Šaʿar he-Gemul, including the present account of the harp.

100

If understood technically, the specification of “understanding” (the eighth sefirah) and “knowledge” (the lower seven sefirot) corresponds well to the motif of the eight-string harp.

101

Translation adapted from Samuel R. Driver and Adolph Neubauer, The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. II: Translations (Oxford, 1877), 79–80 (see too 83, where the same commentary affirms that the Messiah will, among other things, impart “knowledge and wisdom” and spur repentance), on the basis of Moses Naḥmanides, Nachmanidis disputatio publica pro fide Judaica (a. 1263) e Codd. MSS. Recognita addita ejusdem expositione in Jesaiam LIII, ed. Moritz Steinschneider (Berlin, 1860), 23–24; though Naḥmanides’s commentary on Isa 52:13–53:12 is conventionally viewed as an independent composition that is closely related in content to the Christological dispute concerning the “Servant of the Lord” at Barcelona (see Chazan, Barcelona and Beyond, s.v. “Servant of the Lord passage”), I regard the commentary as a formal epilogue to Naḥmanides’s account of the Disputation at Barcelona; that is, as an integral component of the Wikuaḥ composition, bookending the account as a closing counterpart to the opening citation in extenso from b. Sanh. 43a and consummating the composition with a messianic flourish; it appears as such in early manuscript witnesses to the Wikuaḥ (for example, MS Parma, Biblioteca Palatina 2437, fols. 10b–12a, and MS New York, Jewish Theological Seminary of America 2218, fols. 19b–23b; see too Driver and Neubauer, Fifty-Third Chapter, ix [§. 20]).

102

For a lucid overview, see Oded Yisraeli, R. Moses b. Nachman (Nachmanides): Intellectual Biography [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2020), 281–320.

103

Naḥmanides, Wikuaḥ, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:316; Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 2:658 (“Disputation at Barcelona”).

104

Theodor and Albeck, eds., Bereshit Rabbah, 1:17 (Gen. Rab. 2:4); cf. Frank Talmage, ed., Sefer ha-Berit we-Wikuḥey Radaq ʿim ha-Naṣrut (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1974), 21–22 and n. 3; Joseph Kimḥi, The Book of the Covenant of Joseph Kimḥi, trans. Frank Talmage (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1972), 28 and n. 3, where the sanctioned interpretation avoids a Trinitarian reading of the verse.

105

Naḥmanides, Wikuaḥ, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:319.

106

See Tanḥ, Tazriaʿ 1:2 (on Lev 12:2); Solomon Buber, ed., Midrash Tanḥuma (Vilna, 1884), 3:16b (Leviticus pagination): “It is written (in Gen 1:2), ‘and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters’; this spirit was the soul of the first Adam”; see, however, the discussion from Naḥmanides’s “The Law of the Lord is Perfect” (Torat YHWH Temimah), in Chavel, ed. Kitvey Ramban, 1:159; Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 1:86–87: “Our rabbis of blessed memory said: ‘“And the spirit of God hovered” (Gen 1:2) refers to the spirit of the Messiah’ [Gen. Rabb. 2:4; see citation immediately above]. This alludes to the beloved soul [of the Messiah] and [the fact that] with it were created all [other souls].” This assertion may relate to Naḥmanides’s esoteric allusions to the rabbinic topos (b. Yebam. 62a; b. Nid. 13b) of the Davidic Messiah’s advent once the storehouse of souls (guf) has been exhausted (ad Gen 1:26 and Deut 30:2).

107

On the four kingdoms in related exegesis, see Brown, “On the Censorship.”

108

MS Parma 2437, fol. 9b; MS Paris, BNF 334, fol. 234a (which omits the Joshua prooftext); Naḥmanides, Wikuaḥ, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:319; Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 2:693 (“Disputation at Barcelona”).

109

See above.

110

According to Naḥmanides, the high degree of honour bestowed upon the Land of Israel in the generation of Joshua set the standard for subsequent generations; Naḥmanides, Ḥiddušey ha-Ramban ha-Šalem, vol. 2, ed. Moshe Hershler (Jerusalem: Mekhon ha-Talmud ha-Yiśraʾeli ha-Šalem, 1973), 8–9, (ad Meg. 2a); on the proto-messianic task of purifying the Land ascribed to Joshua, see above, n. 75.

111

In the introduction to his commentary on the Song of Songs, Ezra recounted Joshua’s critical role as the successor to Moses in promulgating “knowledge of the Creator” (i.e., Kabbalah) to subsequent generations; thus: “Moses transmitted this wisdom [ḥokhmah] to Joshua, as it is written, ‘And Joshua, the son of Nun, was filled with the spirit of wisdom’ [ruaḥ ḥokhmah; Deut 34:9] because Moses laid his hands upon him”; Ezra ben Solomon, Peruš, in Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 2:478–79; Ezra ben Solomon, Commentary, 20–21; see Vajda, ed., Le commentaire, 333–38; Travis, “Kabbalistic Foundations,” 36.

112

In their scriptural context, the words “none so discreet and wise” (navon we-ḥakham; Gen 41:39) are Pharoah’s praise of Joseph, but here they apply to Joshua. Joseph is yet another figure whose investiture with “the spirit of God” (Gen 41:38) is affirmed by scripture. In fact, Naḥmanides’s exegesis of Pharoah’s recognition of the “spirit of God” in the person of Joseph places even more explicit language in Pharoah’s mouth that supports the epistemological paradigm we have seen linked to a host of inspired figures. Thus, Pharaoh said (Naḥmanides ad loc, concerning Joseph): “Since God has imbued you with this great wisdom [ha-ḥokhmah ha-gedolah ha-zot], thus enabling you to interpret all secret and hidden dreams, and not a word of yours has failed, there is none so understanding and wise in all matters as you are (en navon we-ḥakham be-khol ʿinyan kamokha), and you are therefore fit to assume authority and rulership and to be second to me.” Joseph’s special attributes of knowledge, which are ostensibly not found among the Egyptians, facilitate knowledge “in all matters.” This suggests a kabbalistic epistemology according to which “all matters” are apprehensible by virtue of the divine pattern ordering creation.

113

Naḥmanides on Exod 33:11.

114

Naḥmanides on Exod 33:11.

115

The image of Joshua as the child of understanding may relate to his designation as a youth (naʿar; Exod 33:11; cf. Naḥmanides ad loc); in the Zohar, this designation is related to Joshua’s duty as the custodian of the earthly Tabernacle, paralleling the vocation of Metatron, likewise designated as a “youth,” the angelic keeper of the supernal Tabernacle; see Zohar 2:164a and Tishby, Wisdom of the Zohar, 3:877. For Abraham Abulafia on the figures of Joshua, Hur, and Bezalel (as they relate to Christianity and messianism), see Moshe Idel, Ben: Sonship in Jewish Mysticism (London: Continuum, 2008), 286–87.

116

See too Naḥmanides on Gen 2:7, where Adam’s divinely apportioned soul emanated from understanding (binah): “‘And He breathes into his nostrils the breath of life.’ This alludes to the degree of the soul, its foundation and secret […]. And the verse says that He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life in order to inform us that the soul did not come to the human from the elements, as He intimated concerning the soul of moving things, nor was it concatenated from the separate intellects. Rather it was the great spirit of the Lord, knowledge and understanding from His mouth [hiʾ ruaḥ ha-šem ha-gadol mi-piw daʿat u-tevunah]. For one who breathes into the nostrils of another person gives unto him from his own soul. And this is what is written, ‘And the soul of God gives them understanding [nišmat Šadday tevinem; Job 32:8; cf. above n. 83],’ because the soul is from the foundation of understanding [binah] by way of truth and faith.”

117

Ps 72:17.

118

Naḥmanides on Exod 33:11.

119

b. Sanh. 98a. See Arnold Goldberg, “Die Name des Messias in der rabbinischen Traditionsliteratur: Ein Beitrag zur Messianologie des rabbinischen Judentums,” in Goldberg, Mystik und Theologie des rabbinischen Judentums: Gesammelte Studien I, ed. Margarete Schlüter and Peter Schäfer (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997), 208–75.

120

The restoration of humanity to a prelapsarian nature is a central feature of Naḥmanides’s messianism; see Halbertal, Nahmanides, 103–36.

121

See above n. 47; cf. n. 106.

122

On the Messiah as builder, see above, n. 75.

123

Vajda, ed., Le commentaire, 425–55 (“La fin des temps et la béatitude de l’âme”); Brown, “On the Censorship.”

124

Consider, e.g., Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London: Verso, 2005), 173–74: “Who has ever been sure that the expectation of the Messiah is not, from the start, by destination and invincibly, a fear, an unbearable terror—hence the hatred of what is thus awaited? And whose coming would wish both to quicken and infinitely retard, as the end of the future?”

125

See, e.g., Robert Chazan, “From Friar Paul to Friar Raymond: The Development of Innovative Missionizing Argumentation,” Harvard Theological Review 76 (1983): 289–306; Brown, “On the Censorship.”

126

The scholarly debates concerning a kabbalistic discourse of incarnation lie beyond the scope of the present discussion, though it may be observed in passing that their putative focus concerns the divinisation of flesh generally, rather than the divinity of an incarnate Messiah in particular.

127

This is not to endorse Yitzhak Baer’s claim that Naḥmanides dissimulated in his testimony at Barcelona when limiting the truth value of the rabbinic lore (per Baer, he “argued—against his own convictions—that belief in the Aggada is not obligatory”; see Baer, History of the Jews of Christian Spain, vol. 1, trans. Louis Schoffman [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1961], 1:153); in fact, the sage qualified the credibility of aggadah in a more limited sense, on which see Yaakov Taubes, “In Denial: A Fresh Approach to Naḥmanides and Aggadah at Barcelona,” Jewish Quarterly Review 110 (2020): 679–701. On Naḥmanides’s claim that—concerning a particular aggadah about the birth of the Messiah—he knew of another interpretation that runs counter to the historical-factical reading, one according to “the secrets of the sages” (peruš aḥer mi-sitrey ha-ḥakhamim; Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:306), see Marvin Fox, “Nahmanides on the Status of Aggadot: Perspectives on the Disputation at Barcelona, 1263,” Journal of Jewish Studies 40 (1989), 95–109, esp. 102.

128

As stated, for example, in the introduction to Ezra’s commentary on the Song of Songs; on which see Oded Yisraeli, “Jewish Medieval Traditions Concerning the Origin of Kabbalah,” Jewish Quarterly Review 106 (2016): 21–41.

129

My argument is not directly concerned with the Naḥmanides’s assertion at Barcelona regarding the Messiah’s presence in the Garden of Eden, which may not concern the question of arrival per se; on that assertion, especially as a springboard for further polemical engagement, see Syds Wiersma, “The Dynamic of Religious Polemics: The Case of Raymond Martin (ca. 1220–ca. 1285),” in Interaction between Judaism and Christianity in History, Religion, Art and Literature, ed. Marcel Poorthuis, Joshua Schwartz, and Joseph Turner (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 209.

130

And later in Catalonia as well; see, e.g., Hames, “It Takes Three,” esp. 209 (on Ibn Adret’s polemical use of the midrash on Ps 50:1).

131

Faúr, “Crisis,” 56–8.

132

See epigraph.

133

Exod 25:22; addressing Moses.

134

Ps 80:2.

135

Ezek 10:20.

136

Chavel, ed., Kitvey Ramban, 1:252; translation adapted from Chavel, ed., Writings and Discourses, 1:535. Compare the language of Naḥmanides, “Prayer at the Ruins of Jerusalem” in Kitvey Ramban, 1:432; Yisraeli, “Jerusalem in Naḥmanides’s Religious Thought,” 452–53: “From Your servant’s house comes this Moses ben Naḥman / to see Your city and Sanctuary and their ruins, / and when he rent his garment and tunic, / crying and lamenting, / he bowed unto You and made supplication unto You, / that he should merit and behold / Your inner holiness and Sanctuary, / Your posts and arches rebuilt. / Our eyes shall see Jerusalem a peaceful habitation and the cities of Judah in their restoration, / when Israel shall return to their homes, / the priests to their divine service and the Levites to their platform, / as it said: And the Eternal will create over the whole habitation of Mount Zion / and over her assemblies a cloud and smoke / and over all the Glory shall be a canopy / for the shekhinah of Your might in Your Sanctuary. / The dwelling shall not be cut off / and this Your servant shall sit under its cover, / and abide in the shadow of Shaddai.”

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